7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
More treasure from the RCA vaults,
This review is from: 4 Symphonies (Audio CD)
These wonderful performances are now available in this bargain box set rather than as two individual discs but if you can find the 1994 German remastered pressings at a good price they will sound to most listeners just as good as the new 24 bit version, as the sound on these recordings was always superb: exceptionally warm, clear, full and detailed, bringing out the virtuosity of the Philadelphia instrumentalists. The strings are exceptionally fluent and articulated in the scurrying figures favoured by Schumann in his allegro passages and the brass is always extraordinarily rounded and generous of tone.
Levine avoids the heaviness affected by Bernstein in his live Vienna recordings. I am aware that some prize Lenny's Schumann and I certainly hear him do things I like, but Bernstein's textures are too thick and his exaggerations in tempo too wilful to embrace the light, mercurial side of Schumann's Romanticism; for me, he makes Schumann sound too Beethovenian, if you like. The worst example of Bernstein's excesses is his absurdly etiolated "Adagio espressivo" which is so "espressivo" that it runs to nearly four minutes over the norm of around ten that we hear from Levine and virtually grinds to halt. By contrast, without in any sense anticipating the leaner, thinner textures of the HIP orchestra, Levine brings continual lift and joie de vivre to his accounts; the miracle lies in how so luscious an orchestral sound is allied with such lightness and spring.
I have only on gripe about Levine's performances and that is with his approach to the "Lebhaft" opening movement of the "Rhenish". This is highlighted by comparison with another set of Schumann symphonies on the super-bargain ASV Quicksilva label by Marek Janowski with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic: his more exaggerated dotted rhythms and a faster tempo really invigorate that opening in a way that no other recording I know does. Nobody seems to know or mention those Janowski discs and it is true that the sound (despite being DDD) is not as warm and the playing not as striking as the Philadelphians under Levine, but I prefer them as interpretations to Bernstein's.
These are performances to remind you that Schumann was a lyric Romantic who veers from heroic declamation to dreamy delicacy; his music does not need a heavy hand to make it sing and the empathy between conductor and orchestra here ensures that not once while listening to them play this music does the old accusation of muddy orchestration occur to the listener. Levine might, later in his career, occasionally have been guilty of bombast and ponderousness, but here he effortlessly maintains the chiaroscuro balance required.
This is another of several treasurable reissues by Sony of Levine in his youthful glory directing first class American orchestras and the LSO; try the box sets of his Mahler and Brahms from the same source.