Norman Stinchomble reviews new Schumann and Gunning CDs

SCHUMANN: London Symphony Orchestra / Gardiner (LSO Live CD / SACD LSO0844)★★★

If you want Schumann weighty, grand and imposing with romantic horn calls heralding the era of Wagnerian amplitude then Sir John Eliot Gardiner's not your man. Instead we have music of immense vigour, energy coursing through every quaver, sharp ensemble and characterful playing in these live takes on Schumann's symphonies No.1 and No.3. The recordings, detailed but very close, match the executive approach. Listen to the opening of No.3 where Gardiner takes Schumann's Lebhaft (lively) at face value – at this speed Klemperer (EMI) by contrast seems to be conducting in slow motion. No.1 bursts into life, burgeoning with the return of Spring and carrying all before it and the conclusion is certainly animato – but is is also grazioso? Occasionally velocity outweighs expression: the fourth movement of No.3 shouldn't drag but Schumann's Feierlich demands something more splendidly solemn than Gardiner offers. His rushed Manfred strips Schumann's finest overture of its mystery.

Norman Stinchcombe

UNNING: National Orchestra of Wales / Woods (Signum Classics SIGCD953) ★★★★

Christopher Gunning is best known as a composer of film and television music – including themes for screen sleuths Poirot and Rosemary and Thyme – but is also an accomplished symphonist, like his teacher Richard Rodney Bennett. Kenneth Woods, a staunch advocate of the contemporary symphony, conducts Gunning's No.2 (2003 revised 2018), No.10 (2016) and No.12 (2018). All last between twenty and thirty minutes and on the Sibelius-Mahler spectrum Gunning is much near the former with musical material spare and tightly compressed. No.10's three sections flow together continuously, ending with a return of the opening music, and No.2 is dark, laconic and severe. No.12 is more relaxed and affable, more melodically unbuttoned, but still with a firm compositional grip and emotional depth in the second movement's mournful episode. Woods gets suitably taut playing from this fine orchestra and the recording, made in Cardiff's Hoddinot Hall's generous acoustic, has both precision and warmth.

Norman Stinchcombe

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