GMCD 7412 – Schumann & Mendelssohn: Symphonies No. 4
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, Marc Andreae (conductor)
Audiophile Audition – November 2015
Conductor Marc Andreae (b. 1939) and his Bamberg Symphony have decided to restore (and edit) the original versions of two familiar Romantic scores – and one unfamiliar – to the active repertory. Schumann created two versions of his 1832 two-movement g minor Symphony, revising his first thoughts with a “more friendly” rhythm – dotted quarter/ sixteenth/ quarter – for the first movement. Andreae opts for the latter version, which he considers an improvement. The melodic tissue bears a family resemblance to the first statement in the Op. 2 Papillons. Energetic, with a study upbeat figure, the first movement recalls moments from Mozart, with quick, sturdy chords in C Major that presage Bruckner. The influence of Mendelssohn’s First Walpurgis Night may not be amiss. Conductor Andreae has altered the last 35 bars of the second movement Andantino to include three unison trombones, the flute and oboe original. In 1972 Andreae recorded his version with the Munich Philharmonic. The opening of the second movement – here, in its world-premier recording – recalls at once aspects of Davidsbuendler and the Fourth Symphony. An Intermezzo of 104 bars – serving as a third movement – prefaces the entry of the trombones, then moving to a pianissimo that Andreae builds up to a grand finale heavy in the tympani, in b minor, that will fade away to the aether. The writing, while lyrical, has the turgid quality of a composer’s still searching for an orchestral medium to “legitimate” himself, his having opted for g minor to embrace at least one major masterpiece as his predecessor.
The Schumann d minor Symphony of 1841 – originally his “second” symphony – was to be revised ten years later, having received a lukewarm reception at its premier. According to Brahms, who preferred the original version, the later edition slowed the tempo and stripped it of its initial charm. “Its graceful freedom of movement had become impossible under such heavy garb,” Brahms lamented. In 1980, at the Ancona Festival, Marc Andreae revivified the initial version, whose first movement possesses a mirthful pace unclouded by anxiety, transitioning directly to the Allegro di molto. The second movement Romanze imitates a Spanish love song, here without the ziemlich langsam adjustment that indicates only sadness. The 1841 Scherzo proffers a presto movement, joyful and multi-layered. The spontaneity of feeling extends to the brisk transition to the last movement, with no recapitulation that buttresses the 1851 version. Altogether, the 1841 Fourth Symphony expresses a grace and easy affection – what Nietzsche what call “Mediterranean light feet” – that entirely eludes the 1851 Fourth Symphony, whose dark utterances reflect the turmoil of the composer’s mind as he descended into a personal abyss.
Mendelssohn’s “Italian Symphony” (1831-1834) reflects his own happiness with the Florence and Rome that produced “the most joyous piece I have ever written.” Typically, Mendelssohn persisted in amending his score, rife with “so many errata that I [had taken] it up again and I wrote out. . .many more improvements which it really needed.” The symphony appeared as a “final” score in 1851, four years after Mendelssohn’s untimely death. Conductor Andreae himself notes, in the course of wonderfully spontaneous Allegro vivace, his affection for the 22-bar transition to the first movement’s recapitulation.
The second movement Andante con moto omits the trumpets and tympani. A processional, the music pays homage to the passing of Wolfgang von Goethe and teacher Carl Friedrich Zelter, both dying in March of 1832. The anomalous gay sadness in this original version may presage what Brahms does in the “All Flesh is like Grass” movement from his A German Requiem. The ensuing Menuetto: Con moto grazioso bears resemblances to A Misdummer Night’s Dream and the German forests, in preference to those Italian. No tympani appear in the Trio section, once more aligning the music to the Shakespeare fantasy-music. The melodic curve seems truncated to us who know only the later version, but the lightness and grace of the effect cannot be denied. The spirit of the dance infiltrates the last movement, Saltarello: Allegro di molto, which soon translates into a fierce tarantella, with its implications of white magic to dispel poison. We have enjoyed over an hour of “original” ideas, and the tour has been musically and imaginatively uplifting!