Schumann's symphonies might not demand vast choral forces or orchestral overtime, but to underestimate their challenge is to deny the riches they contain. Schumann doesn't always finish his sentences or dress up his impulses in formal rhetoric, and yet (or maybe therefore) these four works reveal his entire experience of life – and something of our own in the process. How to do justice to his fantastic stream of consciousness in a way that hangs together and makes more than the sum of its extraordinary parts?
Robin Ticciati opened his Schumann cycle with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra by focusing in as far as possible. He began with the Fourth, in its heftier 1851 version, and approached with forensic detail its sighing violin phrases, punchy brass chords and arced wind lines. Despite a few balance problems (winds too heavy for strings) and scrappy entries, this was an illuminating account that highlighted rare gems of orchestral colour. But did it hang together? Only sometimes. Ticciati loaded such meaning on to every fleeting detail that he eventually weighed himself down.
The First Symphony made more sense. Schumann wrote it in four heady days: he was newly married to Clara and the music poured out trembling and giggling, brimming with chutzpah. The SCO brought it to life with lusty bombast in the Scherzo and giddy swagger in the finale. When Ticciati finds his stride with this orchestra, their energy takes on an irrepressible momentum.
Sandwiched between the two symphonies, Paul Lewis was soloist in Mozart's Piano Concerto No 25, the great C major, and he made surprisingly banal work of it. His playing was beautifully smooth and at times rhapsodic – he found a gorgeous impressionist palette in the Andante – but overall it felt long, a bit laboured, and never quite took off.
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