Schumann
1161


Schumann Symphony No. 1 in Bb Major Op. 38
Schumann Symphony No. 4 in D Minor Op. 120


Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra Munich 1951 (No. 1)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Berlin 1953 (No. 4)

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This recording of the Schumann 4th Symphony has always been very highly regarded and I find it an almost perfect version. It was always a mystery to me how a Furtwängler studio recording could come out so well. It is highly intense from beginning to end, with great flexibility of tempo. The last movement is superb. I don’t think I know of another studio recording, except for the 1943 Coriolan Overture that is at this level of excitement. The symphony sounds so great that I even wondered whether this was a case where an interpretation could actually improve a work. It does sound remarkably better than all other recordings of the work that I have heard. But then, wouldn’t this greatness have to be there from conception?

Well, a few years ago, at least I solved the mystery of a Furtwängler studio recording sounding so intense and exciting. I read a story of how the recording session went. Apparently, it wasn’t going well, with the producer and engineer making constant demands of the orchestra and conductor. Typically, Furtwängler, no friend of the recording process, lost his patience. He told them that he was not going to go on that way. He said that he would conduct it one more time from beginning to end and then he was leaving. Well, that last version is apparently the one that was published. It conformed something I had experienced myself. The best results come when orchestra and conductor are single-mindedly focused on the music that is ahead and not on the errors that have been made and must be corrected. When you can’t stop to correct, the performance has the necessary flow and coherence.

The First Symphony is also a great performance, although not at the same level as the Fourth. Then again, the symphony itself is not at the same level either.