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Brahms Violin Concerto in D
Schumann Symphony No 4 (1841 version)

Northern Sinfonia / Zehetmair (vn and direction)

Avie AV2125

Among the new favourites of record buyers....and the pet hates of major record companies are orchestra-venue own labels. LSO Live, RCO Live, RPO Live, both consumers and producers get two for the price of one when CDs are issued based on concerts, and on residencies in venues. Northern Sinfonia-Sage are the latest on the list; this is a studio recording featuring Music Director Thomas Zehetmair as both violinist and conductor. The inspired choice has been made to couple the Brahms (an obvious showpiece for Zehetmair) with the rarely-heard original version of the Schumann fourth symphony.

As is often remarked, Schumann was an inveterate reviser of his own work; is revisions were not often improvements. The original version of this symphony was lighter in touch, less grandiose; the changes are most obvious in the finale, especially at the start, and listeners may well feel the familiar later version really over-eggs the pudding. 

The earlier version also better suits the scale of the Northern Sinfonia. Zehetmair produes an idiomatic, rousing, energetic performance, not unlike Kovacevich's conducting of the London Mozart Players (heard the night before the review.) There are many nice touches, the first accelerando, then spring of the finale coda, the yielding phrasing in the opening of the trio, the organic attacca transitions from movement to movement.

At the same time, we are still reminded of the dignity and warmth of classic Schumannists such as Kubelik. In that respect, this is a much less way-out reading than the John Eliot Gardiner set which popularised this original version - and indeed the whole idea of 'authentic' Schumann. DG issued innumerbale promotional discs of Symphony 4, with different tracks carrying each finale.

In the concerto, Zehetmair plays with full-blooded, romantic sentiment; his full vibrato, unashamed emotionality and obvious delight in the music. He is an accomplished director of the Sinfonia; a more detailed review of his interpretation will follow shortly, in a group comparison with his own earlier version with Dohnanyi and the Clevelands (just re-issued), and the new Julia Fischer version.   

Jonathan Stokes, an LSO Live veteran, produces a transparent recording with his usual bright detail; this is a fine document of what should be a bright future for label. Altogether this disc provides a very rich diet and should leave all buyers satisfied.

Ying Chang