Schumann: The Complete Symphonies
- Pablo Heras-Casado (conductor); Munich Philharmonic Orchestra
- Recorded 2019
- Harmonia Mundi HMM 902664.65 (2CD)
This is probably the dullest Schumann cycle I have encountered in recent years – quite a feat in the face of similarly uninspiring traversals by Ticciati, MTT, and Gardiner (LSO) but to name a few. Not having been previously acquainted with conductor Pablo Heras-Casado’s work before, I have no idea where his repertoire affinities lie, but it’s clear that Schumann isn’t one of them.
And boy does his lack of interest in Schumann manifest itself in these performances. They are all of a piece, singularly lacking any sort of insight or sense of emotional involvement – the latter being particularly lethal in Schumann, at once the most neurotic, introspective, and fervently passionate of composers. You can forget the aching yearning in the Second’s slow movement (disc 1, track 7), the sense of desperation in the first movement (disc 1, track 5); manic joy in the last movement (disc 1, track 8); the stern grandeur of the Third’s fourth movement (disc 2, track 4); the cosmic sense of awe in the passage linking the Scherzo and Finale of the Fourth (disc 2, track 9). They are brisk, though, which helps start off the quicker movements in a lively fashion. But stick around a little longer and you realize, with the sameness of attack, dreariness of color, unimaginativeness in phrasing (rounded off effeminately à la HIP), and neutrality of expression, that its initial impression of energy is illusory. It’s glib – oh, so glib. The lean, lithe First, probably the most “objective” of the symphonies, is accordingly given the best performance here, but an absence of problems does not a great performance make.
The Munich Philharmonic responds to their hapless conductor with equally insipid playing. Dynamics are tamped down, colors are muted, textures are clogged. Woodwinds don’t cut through the texture in their counterstatement at 1 minute into the first movement of the Third Symphony (disc 2, track 1); the trumpets don’t blaze forth brilliantly at the end of the Second (disc 1, track 8); there’s little poetry or synchrony in the duet between the cello and oboe in the Fourth’s second movement (disc 2, track 7). As if these faults would not be obvious just by listening to it, comparisons with the usual (Sawallisch, Szell, Dohnanyi, Bernstein, Skrowaczewski…) render these readings utterly irrelevant.
I hate to need to bring Celibidache’s Schumann with this same orchestra into the equation here. Not only do those highly idiosyncratic readings defy realistic comparison, but they are also products of extensive rehearsals and a long association of mutual trust and respect between conductor and orchestra that could not possibly be replicated by what is apparently a few guest conducting stints, however genius the conductor (and, frankly, few are as genius as Celi). But two things are obvious within a minute into any of the symphonies: firstly, Celi has conviction, a strong conception of how the music should sound like (and which he gets his orchestra to realize), while Heras-Casado does not. Secondly, the orchestra’s quality has deteriorated, big time.
The congested recorded sound and the very expensive asking price for this album (on CD) are just the final nails in the coffin. This Schumann cycle does neither the music nor the artists concerned any justice, one that posterity would consign to the realm of oblivion.
This is some boring Schumann. Pablo Heras-Casado’s dispassionate, uninvolved conducting lacks the clarity of vision that informs the great Schumann cycles, and neither are the orchestra’s playing nor the recorded sound anything to shout about.