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tidy performances, disappointing sound
on 14 May 2014
This set, taken from live performances in Paris, is a disappointment after Nezet-Seguin's lovely recording of Tchaikovsky's Sixth. The sound has plenty of presence, but it lacks warmth -- and this, I think, has to be the fault of the engineers. The winds in particular, in the higher sections, sound over-bright and rather blaring. The performances themselves seem tidy and careful-- but I don't think that's enough for Schumann. I want a sense of propulsive motion, driving to an end that will make the individual movements coherent, and there is nothing as compelling as that here. Nezet-Seguin isn't any faster than Zinman in his 2005 set, but Zinman has the warmth and propulsion that this set lacks, and I would guess that his Tonhalle Orchestra is probably lighter in the strings than, say, the BPO or the Bavarian RSO for Kubelik, who is weightier and warmer (and a tad slower) with both these orchestras. I haven't heard Gardiner's original-instrument set (generally very well-regarded), so for me the best overall recommendation is Szell's Sony Masterworks Heritage set, originally recorded around 1958-59. The Heritage remastering is fine, and the combination of weight, warmth, and energy is just wonderful. For me, it's the best set on the market (though I haven't heard Dohnanyi).
Just for the heck of it, I compared Szell's and Nezet-Seguin's versions of the Third (Rhenish) to Klemperer's 1969 account (in K's "Romantic Symphonies" box). Klemperer is two minutes slower in the first movement, but it's a terrific performance -- unfortunately his First (from 1964) is dull. So -- Szell's the man, with Zinman not far behind, if you must have digital.