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4.8 out of 5 stars33
4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 3 June 2009
It's good that these classic performances by Sawallisch and the Staatskapelle Dresden have always held a place in EMI's catalogue in some form or other. They are now re-issued in EMI's `Great Recordings of the Century' collection and, as one reviewer has already pointed out, deservedly so as they really are great performances by any standard.

Sawallisch really does give the lie to the lazy cliché that Schumann's scoring in these works is too heavy and he proves that there is no need to retouch (a la Mahler) the instrumentation or thin it out at all. All it takes is a conductor attuned to Schumann's language and Sawallisch definitely proves himself that here.

I can't think of a single weak movement in this entire set, but the highlights are many. Tempi are well judged: in the first movement of the Rhenish the musical lines and the listener are carried along on a surge of irresistible momentum; there is a similar forward drive in all these works, but always at the service of the musical argument and nothing feels rushed. Where the music calls for it, Sawallisch has the requisite sensitivity of phrasing too - the `larghetto' of the first symphony, for example, is exquisitely done, and Sawallisch really brings out the quiet (but no less deep for that) passion implied in Schumann's frequently used direction, "mit innigkeit".

The recording still sounds good, even though it is nearly 40 years old now. It is warm but there is no lack of detail: even the timpani - so important in the first and fourth symphonies and played here on soft-headed sticks - come through with remarkable clarity and presence. The recapitulation in the Rhenish, where the horns ring out, is a thrilling moment sonically and musically; and the forebodingly tragic passage that links the scherzo and finale of the fourth symphony is as awe-inspiring here as in any performance I have heard, on modern or period instruments.

I could spend all day listing the virtues of this Schumann cycle, which I have lived with for many years and which is the one I listen to most often. Suffice it to say, for me it is the first choice without any doubt and no lover of Schumann's music should be without it.
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on 8 January 2009
The Schumann symphonies are such wonderful pieces of music, that there seem to be very few weak sets of them out there. Sawallisch has a special feeling for this music, and these performances are fresh, lively and happy! The recordings are excellent as well, so if you want these works, then look no further...
...that said, there are some interesting alternatives that should not be dismissed. Schumann has been criticised in the past for his "weak" orchestration, many would say unfairly. Mahler did some re-touching of the symphonies for his own performances - a labour of love, rather than a basic attempt to improve Schumann, and these versions can be heard on excellent recordings under Riccardo Chailly on Decca. Even better is the set under John Eliot Gardiner, where Schumann is performed on original instruments on DGG, and these are quite an eye opener! However, as a central recommendation, the Sawallisch set are superb.
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on 1 May 2011
I've long loved the Schumann symphonies and had aged LPs by various performers, though not the Sawallisch recordings. I was a bit hesitant to buy CDs of an old recording as wonderful works though they are, these symphonies can be made to sound dull in the wrong hands. Nothing could be further from that in these performances. The fast movements are kept to a brisk pace though never rushed, and the slow movements are lush. The sound is amazing - clear and bright and the wonderful brass of the Dresden orchestra shines across!! At the price an excellent buy but it would actually still be good quality for money at full price!
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on 24 June 2002
The celebrated 1972 recordings of Schumann's four symphonies and the Overture, scherzo and finale by the Staatskapelle Dresden under Sawallisch have now been reissued in EMI's "Great recordings of the century" series. This is no exaggeration, for these are indeed great recordings. Sawallisch brought a clarity to these works which in other hands can sound ponderous, and the latest Abbey Road digital remastering makes them sound better than ever.
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This set of recordings from 1972 has been in my collection for forty years now and this latest set of remastered discs is certainly worth acquiring as the recordings have never sounded better and originally sounded far from clear, even if always thrilling. The original sound was too generous in its acoustics and produced somewhat 'swimmy sounds' where detail got submerged in the venue. This has now been completely rectified and is no longer a problem.

The performances themselves have a remarkable sweep and exhilaration apparent from first note to last. This may have something to do with the circumstances of their making. The orchestra and conductor were originally booked to record Wagner's Rienzi but at the last moment two singers pulled out and that recording had to be abandoned. It was decided to use the booked time slot to make a recording of this set of Schumann. The orchestra was already very familiar with Schumann's work with a history of that link going back to the time when Schumann lived in Dresden. The change of direction for the recording sessions must have introduced an element of freshness and spontaneity with little opportunity to over-rehearse. The result, as one American reviewer put it, was 'Sawallisch's white-hot direction nails you to the wall.'

This is one of those sets where absolutely everything seems to be perfect. Schumann's symphonies have an inner glow and compulsion in these performances that leaves most of the competition far behind. others may, and certainly do, bring other values to these works but for sheer excitement, verve, spontaneity and incandescence, these discs are in a class of their own.

I would suggest that, no matter now many other recordings collectors have of these works, this set appropriately listed as one of the Great Recordings of the Century, is a 'must have' set. For those who are yet to buy their first or only copy of these works, this set has to be considered as one of the very best to put on the short-list.
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on 9 August 2012
This CD box set is one of the "Great Recordings of the Century" series and that really says it all. Despite many recordings of all 4 Symphonies, the performances by Sawallisch and the Dresden Staatskapelle have never been bettered, and I venture to suggest they never will be. So, if you do not know the works, or perhaps rate them as inferior to, say, Schubert or Brahms, why should you buy them? After all, Schumann has not exactly in the past had a good press as a Symphonist or as an Orchestrator.

These performances will completely convert you and make you wonder why you never realised how superb the Symphonies were. A great deal of this is down to Sawallisch, whose obvious love of the works, and careful study of the scores, led him to view them afresh and create enormously energetic, vital and powerfully emotional interpretations: he misses nothing and his readings are wonderfully clear and transparent; he sweeps us along irresistably, but there is tenderness as well as power. The playing of the Staatskapelle is superb - Dresden was, after all Schumann's home for 6 years, and has strong links with his music. Clearly, Sawallisch's enthusiasm for these works has permeated through to his Orchestra. and they respond superbly.

What especially can you look for amid so many highlights? My suggestions are (a) the tender 2nd movement of the 4th Symphony, with its (rare) violin solo, and the magnificent build-up to the same Symphony's finale. The 4th Symphony was revised by Schumann, and this terrific passage replaced a somewhat naff original: (b) the sheer exuberance of the 3rd Symphony's first movement (in a key - E Flat - where the strings are not usually known to soar!), and some magisterial horn playing, which the Dresden Players clearly relish: just listen to the them in the middle of the first movement, when they re-introduce the main theme! - also the "Cathedral Scene" 4th movement with like magisterial brass playing: the first entry of the trombones occurs here, but thereafter they are silent until thhe end of the finale.(c) the awakening of Spring in the 1st Symphony after the arresting introductory fanfare (nearly a disaster at the work's first performance, since Schumann had originally written the fanfare a third lower, so it sounded as if Spring had a bad cold - well, we all get it wrong sometimes!), and (d) the immense and powerful energy of the 2nd Symphony's first movement development section, and subsequent surge to the movement's strong ending: then the nervous Scherzo with incredibly fast string writing, plus the same work's dark and intensely moving slow movement.

If I have to signal out a favourite, it would have to be Symphony No. 2, written at a time when Schumann was undergoing a black period, and, as he himself said, he only began to recover in the finale, and that finale is not itself a complete victory. The work is restless, striving to succeed: it is the most emotional of all four - perhaps a prelude to the dark ending of the composer's life? Who can say? Don't delay, order your CD NOW, and find your own favourite moments.
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on 22 February 2002
These are by far the best performances on CD of Schumann's symphonies, and were the best on LP. The qualities of every movement are brought out in a perfection that I have not found elsewhere, especially in later recordings.
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on 2 March 2012
I bought the original LPs in the seventies and was bowled over then by both the playing and interpretation of these evergreen symphonies by Schumann. I have heard and listened to many performances since and have heard none to equal the Dresdeners in their freshness and vitality. The unique sound of the Dresden Staatskapelle adds greatly to the transparency and energy of Sawallisch's interpretations. I currently own the earlier CD releases but was slightly disappointed by the sound compared to how I remember it on the LPs - some of the warmth seemed to have disappeared, so I am hoping that the Great Recordings release will correct the error of the first remastering. The only gripe I had with the first release and this one is that the very fine account of the Manfred overture, originally included in the LP set, has been lost in transfer to the CDs.
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on 17 August 2012
Being one of the older generation, I have been listening to the Schumann symphonies for many years, enjoying the interpretations of such exalted exponents as Haitink, Kubelik, Krips, Ansermet, Boult etc. Then along came Sawallisch - somehow missed by me over the years. What a revelation! These are truly the performances to have, despite the many merits of other interpreters. Wolfang Sawallisch was never a conductor to seek the limelight but his modest nature belied what were often white hot interpretations of the repertoire, revealing every nuance of the scores. To put it simply, these recordings blow the others out of the water.
Where next?
Well have a listen to Sawallisch in Beethoven. Gratifying. And then go to Sawallisch conducting the Bruckner 4th with The Philadelphia Orchestra. In comparative reviews of recent recordings, the Sawallisch is rarely if ever mentioned. Try it! You will be rewarded with one of the finest interpretations on record. Sawallisch was a rare and too often overlooked treasure and fully deserves to be recognised as such.
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on 5 November 2011
I've had several different recordings of Schumann's Symphonies over the years including the same recording of the Sawallisch on an L.P. I struggled to find the same copy on CD, and as soon as I saw it available on Amazon I bought it immediately. It's just as remarkable as the L.P was, but the sound and clarity so much better. Virtually all that can be said about this particular recording has already been done. There are and have been many others made, but as far as I'm concerned Sawallisch's is far and away the best, and also my favourite.
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