Symphony no.2 in C major, op.61Symphony no.3 in E-flat major, op.97
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen
Paavo Järvi (conductor)
Schumann’s symphonies seem to me to receive something of a raw deal in terms of concert programming. I cannot understand why, for the ignorant criticism they endure is not an explanation in itself; it rather seems to be a manifestation of a deeper problem. Paavo Järvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen have (relatively) recently recorded all four symphonies; they performed them in Vienna over two concerts, of which I caught the second.
I doubt that anything will ever wean me from my preference for a larger orchestra in this repertoire, but there could be no gainsaying the commitment brought by the Bremen orchestra (strings 10.8.6.6.4), nor their ability to execute whatever Järvi asked of them. Sometimes the latter proved more convincing than at other times, the opening Second Symphony proving somewhat mixed, at least to my antediluvian ears. The introduction to the first movement was wondrous, performed with grave Bachian beauty and equally impressive inexorability. What followed was alert, sprightly even, though much of it sounded definitely on a chamber scale. (A fashionable claim at the moment is to say that this music ‘only works’ when performed with the meagre number of strings, fewer than here, that Schumann at one point in his career had to endure.) It was not that Järvi’s reading lacked vehemence, especially during the development and recapitulation, but that the score’s Beethovenian inheritance was to an extent dampened – though others will doubtless retort that this is how Beethoven should be performed too. Balances were at times odd, especially when the brass blared, but again perhaps that is the latest ‘authenticke’ fashion; certainly Järvi’s preference for hard kettledrum sticks is de rigueur in such quarters. Nervous energy was palpable though.
It was in the scherzo that the performance became more problematical. It opened in a lively enough, Mendelssohnian, fashion, very fast. But weightier matters are, or should be, at stake; this is not A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The first trio was simply too much of a contrast, often very slow indeed, and pulled around in surprisingly arbitrary fashion so as quite to exhaust momentum. The scherzo’s reprises were less airy but mercilessly hard-driven, strings sounding merely thin. However, the second trio was much better; it flowed and its harmony told. The gently melancholic slow movement offered a refreshing contrast with a line notably lacking in its predecessor. A richer orchestral sound would have been a boon, but the chamber scale did little harm and there were fine woodwind solos to enjoy. The finale showed that relative lightness of textures need not necessarily lead to lessening of dramatic tension. Järvi’s reading was fresh, without now falling into the trap of driving too hard. It certainly did not have anything like the profundity of a recent performance by Christoph Eschenbach, but on its own terms it convinced. It felt like a finale, though it would still more have done so had the first two movements sounded as if they had belonged to the same symphony.