Authentic Schumann at the RFH

Yesterday evening at the Royal Festival Hall the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (which performs older classical music with period instruments) gave the first of two concerts in which they are playing all four of Schumann's symphonies: yesterday it was numbers 4 and 2, preceded by Berlioz's Overture to King Lear.

Confusingly, Schumann's 4th Symphony was actually the second to be composed, in 1841. The four movements were played continuously - unheard-of at the time - and the symphony attracted much criticism for not being sufficiently like Beethoven (in construction rather than actual style). Schumann later revised the symphony, and it is that version which is normally heard; but many think the original is preferable for its freshness and innovation, and it was that version which was played yesterday. The use of period instruments, particularly the woodwind and the unvalved brass, with their less mellow timbre than their modern counterparts, improves the clarity of the orchestration and gives the work a lightness and spring to go with its charm.

The second Symphony, composed in 1845, is less successful in some ways, having a more diffuse structure: but still carries considerable energy and melodic invention. The final movement in particular was played with a speed and precision which must have taxed the violins (and leads one to wonder whether Schumann's orchestra could have coped so easily). Under Sir Simon Rattle the orchestra performed to their usual high standard.

Posted: Tue - December 9, 2008 at 09:55 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM