June 2008

Schumann - Symphonies Nos. 1-4 (Mahler edition)
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Riccardo Chailly cond.
Decca 478 0037
Format: CD
Released: 2008

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Robert Schumann remains one of the most beloved composers, particularly for his songs, his chamber music, and his works for his own instrument, the piano. When it comes to his four symphonies, he is sometimes charged with clumsiness as an orchestrator. Conductors frequently touch up his scoring here and there; Gustav Mahler, one of the most respected conductors of his time, undertook thoroughgoing revisions of all four of Schumann’s symphonies -- not out of contempt for their alleged clumsiness, but out of love for the exceptional level of inspiration that produced them. Chailly, who recorded symphonies of both Mahler and Schumann with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, now makes a strong case for Schumann/Mahler with the Leipzig Orchestra whose history includes the premieres of three of these works.

Chailly clearly does not regard this music as Mahler based on material by Schumann, but rather as just what Mahler intended: music of Schumann rescored with affection and skill to adjust a few misjudgments and take advantage of some possibilities that were simply not available to him in his time. David Matthews, in his splendid annotation, explains concisely and without "technical language" exactly what Mahler did, why he did it, and what his revisions accomplish.

The performances are so persuasive -- so filled with affection and vigor, without the slightest indulgence or lapse of taste -- that I’d imagine even collectors who tend to avoid duplicating titles might want this set for alternating with recordings of these well-loved works played straight from Schumann’s scores. The warm yet detailed sound quality is as much a plus as the burnished-gold playing of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, which has simply never sounded better.