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on 16 October 2013
In the Nineties, following the deaths of Karajan and Bernstein, DG and Warner embarked on an arms-race: Jeggy v Harnoncourt. Who could be promoted from the ranks of the Period Practice rhetoricians into a mainstream conductor? Projects were lavished on them in a way - Bruckner, Brahms and their like - that would have been unthinkable previously (who can forget the Jeggification of Verdi's Requiem . . . .). DG eventually forfeited the challenge when Jeggy's limitations - not least his emotional aridity and lack of humour - became evident at the box-office. Harnoncourt had - and indeed has - more staying power. Distinction touches certain endeavours. Even so, does there not come a point where one has the right to say: basta! Enough of this Harnoncourt Muesli!

Here we have a bowl of rolled oats, Schumann style. It contains the Third and Fourth Symphonies and the Piano Concerto in their entirety and excerpts from the First and Second Symphonies, the Violin Concerto, and Genoveva - the latter being a veritable Sargasso Sea of half-inspiration.

With the exception of Martha Argerich's fiery, wanton Piano Concerto, nothing here strikes me as being definitive. Harnoncourt being Harnoncourt, in many an instance he brings unusual details to light even if, in doing so, he invites a certain metaphor regarding woods and trees. I enjoyed his Rhenish - but I am not going to listen to this spruce account in preference to Tennstedt, Karajan or Levine (all with the Berlin Philharmonic of yore). Speaking of which, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, as ever, bears resemblance to a high-revving mass-produced sportscar of no great distinction or torque. The slow movement of the Violin Concerto - Schumann's Das Lied von der Erde in its near-unbearable longing - is well played but a trifle fast to my liking. Harnoncourt uses the first version of the Fourth Symphony (for what it is worth); one wonders whether a variant of clipped phrasing is in play as he sprints through the work like a dish-licker. This is Muesli Central in its lumpiness and lack of line - and the celebrated transition into the finale is prosaic. The Spring Symphony is listenable even if there is no compulsion to track down the remaining three movements. Much the same could be said of the Second Symphony. On Amazon, lovers of opera quail at the mere mention of Genoveva. While the overture is certainly inspired, who has the wherewithal to fathom out the remainder? On the basis of the excerpts here, it receives a dedicated performance from all concerned. `Auf, auf in das Feld' is not without its attractions. Indeed, it is majestic. The other excerpts are note-spinners.

Recording-wise, Genoveva fairs best in this clutch: indeed, it is a model of its kind. Martha Argerich blasts the chamber-orchestra to kingdom come so clearly there is an imbalance there. The other recordings are acceptable enough.

Life is so short. Banquets abound. Muesli, anyone?
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