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  MDG -
  940 1033-6
  Schumann: Piano Concerto - Zacharias
  Schumann: Piano Concerto Op. 54, Introduction and Allegro Appassionato Op. 92, Introduction and Allegro Op. 134

Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne
Christian Zacharias
Track listing:
  Classical - Orchestral
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Related titles: 5

Reviews: 3

Site review by Polly Nomial December 3, 2006
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Review by steviev October 14, 2009 (8 of 8 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
The Schumann piano concerto can be a jarring experience. The last two movements were added in 1846 to the original 1841 "Phantasie". The middle movement's breezy, blunt character shatters the spell cast by the opening Allegro affettuoso in utter oblivion to what has come before. In the transition to the finale, the piano offers us a tantalizing glimpse of the opening movement -- an eerie descending chain of fourths -- but then it's off to the races in a soulless Allegro vivace full of empty keyboard gymnastics. Anyone who hears this work can tell right away that this is some sort of lashup, an inspired beginning mated with a perfunctory close.

Most performances of the concerto emphasize this division, but not this one. Pianist and conductor Christian Zacharias sets a steady, unsentimental pace in the first movement, and resists wallowing in the innig opening material. The orchestra follows suit, holding to a steady, fleet tempo that shaves about 30 seconds off the typical performance. This is the least swoony performance I have heard of Schumann's opening Phantasie. Some might find it a little brusque, or even insensitive. It is certainly dry-eyed. But Zacharias' relatively straight approach better relates it to the spirit of the second movement; there is still a sense of discontinuity here, but not as much as usual. It is in the finale where Zacharias really pulls his conception together. He adopts a loping, leisurely tempo, nearly one minute longer than most performances, and this makes a big difference. I have always wanted the finale in a slower tempo than is typical, a tempo with a deeply swinging iambic lift: and Zacharias has given me what I want. By playing it slower, the latent poignancy of the finale is revealed -- this movement is not so spiritually divorced from the opening movement after all. Stripping some sentiment from the first movement and combining it with a more soulful finale really brings this piece together. The seams still show a little, but this is easily the most coherent presentation of Schumann's concerto I have heard.

About the other concertante works on this disc, I have less to say. The touching, if uneven, Op. 134 is well-presented here. The wistful-naive central melody is sensitively underplayed by Zacharias, and he does the best he can with the less distinguished contrasting material. The deservedly obscure Op. 92, written at a time of political upheaval in Europe, finds Schumann in his generic belligerent martial mode. I do not like this work, especially its repeated borrowings from Mendelssohn's G-minor piano concerto. I am glad Zacharias et al chose to place it last on the disc so I can easily skip it.

The Lausanne Chamber Orchestra is smallish: 40 players altogether with 26 strings. The strings do an admirable job of playing within their comfort -- there's no We-May-Be-Small-But-We're-MIGHTY hack and slash going on here. They play so beautifully that I could only wish for more of them. Balances are fine, however, and nicely chamberish. The piano's tone is plangent, clear, and sweet, with no steeliness in the middle register nor twang in the upper reaches. Zacharias's playing is calm and quiet, with fingers deep in the keys, and his precise control of dynamics is truly awe-inspiring.

And the sound! I must warn you that the 2+2+2 programme is absolutely drenched in reverb. The miracle is that this does not diminish the clarity of the orchestra nor the piano one bit. When I close my eyes, I am transported from my little apartment... now I'm sitting near the back of an otherwise empty Lausanne Metropole, enjoying a command performance for one. This effect is much reduced in the 4.0 programme, and in stereo the reverb is hardly noteworthy. This is one of MDG's earliest 2+2+2 recordings, and I suspect that MDG purposely engineered it to highlight the wonders of this recording technology. (Zacharias's more recent Mozart recordings do not have such a vast sense of space). This is truly a demonstration disc for the 2+2+2 setup -- if you aren't wowed by this, then you are officially immune to multichannel. (And congratulations, your immunity will save you lots of money!).

I thought I was done with the Schumann concerto, but Zacharias and company have rekindled my love for this music. My thanks to everyone involved for making such an amazing immersive experience. Who says virtual reality is dead?

Finally, a plea: This SACD was originally issued on DVD-A. MDG made some other early DVD-A recordings of Shostakovich's 5th, 9th, and 10th symphonies that have not yet been released on SACD. If this Schumann disc is typical of MDG's early 2+2+2 efforts, I urge them to re-release these symphonies on SACD. I personally guarantee you at least one sale per disc.

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Review by andrewb February 9, 2007 (5 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
After listening to this disc several times in the last couple of months I have to conclude that none of the works on the disc are performed to a sufficiently high standard as to be recommendable.

The performance of each work is a curate's egg, take the opus 134, the Introduction is excellent, light and transparent with momentum flowing gently forwards but then the allegro just seems to stop - as though the players and conductor have lost their way and are not sure how to proceed, confidence just seems to exude away. Solo lines in the concerto and elsewhere are often frail and uncertain in their ending. One has to suspect that this recording was made too early and that everyone concerned needed more preparation to become more at ease with the musics requirements and its interpretation and thus play with confidence.

The major advantage of the disc is in the use of a chamber orchestra, which I believe enhances much of Schumann's music. This performance has considerable transparency in this respect and is most enjoyable for that reason, unfortunately this transparency leaves fewer places for inadequate performance to hide and this is mercilessly shown here.

The performance is not helped by a very poor multi-channel recording, it is much too reverberant and gives a very narrow image between the front speakers. This reverberance annoyingly clouds some of the transparency achieved by using a small orchestra. One can improve matters by substantially reducing the rear channel output but the result is still not good by todays SACD recording standards. In the end I gave up on the multi-channel and just listened in stereo.
The stereo sound is OK but not outstanding.

Hopefully the newly started Opening Doors project from the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and Dausgaard on BIS will give us a better Schumann Piano Concerto with chamber orchestra (at least I am hoping that they are recording this concerto), the first release of symphonies 2 and 4 was a good start, especially the original version of number 4.

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Works: 3  

Robert Schumann - Introduction and Allegro for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 134
Robert Schumann - Konzertstück (or Introduction & Allegro appassionato) in F for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 92
Robert Schumann - Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54