Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Schumann: Second Symphony

I stood by the body of my passionately loved husband, and was calm. All my feelings were absorbed in thankfulness to God that he was at last set free, and as I kneeled by his bed I was filled with awe. It was as if his holy spirit was hovering over me--Ah! If only he had taken me with him.
--Clara Schumann, after the death of her husband Robert Schumann

We return to George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra's exceptional recording of Schumann's Four Symphonies to hear his Symphony #2.
George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Schumann: Symphonies 1-4; Manfred Overture

CBS, 1958/Sony, 1996

When I sat down to listen to Schumann's Second Symphony, I assumed it would sound as Mozart-like as his First Symphony. I couldn't have been more wrong: these two symphonies sound strikingly different.

Listener Notes for Schumann's Symphony #2:
1) You can tell right away that this symphony is far more Romantic in style. If Schumann wrote his First Symphony in a style following Mozart, he wrote his Second following Beethoven.

2) Excellent examples of classic Romantic style: the passage beginning at 1:58 in the first movement; also the passage at 2:46 in the first movement.

3) The closing major chords of the first movement could be cribbed right out of a Beethoven symphony!

4) At 1:36 in the second movement, there's a tempo change that the Cleveland Orchestra doesn't get quite right.

5) The second movement is one of the more unusual scherzos I've ever heard. Quite frankly, it's odd enough that the second movement is a scherzo in the first place. And good lord, you sure wouldn't be able to dance to it. But wow, does it ever have an exciting ending!

6) The third movement is widely considered one of the most beautiful orchestral works Schumann ever wrote. I can't say I disagree. And nice to hear a beautifully played, in-tune clarinet solo at 2:59-3:10 (it repeats at 7:40).

7) I found the fourth movement to be somewhat of an anticlimax. It felt like the first movement had a much more rousing (and conclusive) ending.

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