Sunday, November 27, 2011

Leonard Bernstein – Schumann – Symphonies 1 & 4

   Robert Schumann was intended to be virtuoso pianist but in the first period of his musical career he became influential music critic and aesthete of German romanticism. Until the age of thirty, he was composing exclusively piano music. In 1940, when he married Clara Wieck, encouraged by his wife, he begun his symphonic period. And shortly he became famous as a composer of vocal and symphonic music. One of milestones of his creative output was Symphony No. 1 in B flat Major op. 38 „Spring” which he sketched in four days of January 1941 between 23rd and 26th. In one month he completed the full symphonic score. Premiere took place in Leipzig and was conducted by Felix Mendelssohn. This work is widely known also under original German title „Frühlingssymphonie” is one of most loved symphonies of romantic era.

Leonard Bernstein – Schumann – Symphonies No. 1 & No. 4 (1985)

   The same year Robert Schumann composed his 4th Symphony in D Minor but this work hadn’t been published for years, until composer has revised this composition ten years later. In 1851 Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 in D Minor op. 120 has been published for the first time. This dramatic work clearly presents romantic style, even if it’s still in four movements, yet in new setting played without pauses between. It was the sign of the time composer changed not only the form and orchestration, but also language of tempo indications. The first version from 1841 has traditionally Italian tempo indications and final version from 1851 has German tempo indications. There are lots of differences between those two versions. Despite the first version was lighter and more transparent in the facture, Clara Schumann insisted for recognizing the essential meaning of 1851 version.
   In 1984 Leonard Bernstein conducted all four Schumann’s Symphonies in Vienna Musikverein’s concert hall. Life recording of this event was published by Deutsche Grammophon label next year and is undeniably one of best recordings of Schumann’s music on vinyl, cd, dvd, youtube or any other media. One can hear and watch fragments of recorded concerto but no new media can give out the power of original DGG album with 1st and 4th symphonies.

   Leonard Bernstein’s interpretations of romantic and post-romantic symphonic music are a class for itself. He was able to bring out the essence of musical experience using measures corresponding to the era and style of the works. As creative personality he was sometimes arbitrary but his interpretations were never anachronic or incoherent. Especially performances of nineteenth century music require a thorough knowledge of ideas and technical solutions evolving over several decades, sometimes from one symphony to another. This is real foundation of conductor’s workshop and Bernstein was one of the best in interpretation of symphonic music. Under his baton Wiener Philharmoniker sound warm and precise, playing with passion yet with necessary distance. Hope of Frühlingssymphonie and dramatic aura of Symphony No. 4 in D Minor are like two sides of the coin. Between them one can find deep conflicts, power of feelings and unique creative rendition of two great romantic symphonies Robert Schumann.

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