These are warmly affectionate, poetic, yet red-blooded readings. Rafael Kubelik approaches Schumann from the opposite direction of George Szell, who maintains a classical rigour throughout his performances with the Cleveland Orchestra on Sony Classical. By contrast, Kubelik is more relaxed and free flowing, and under his direction the Berlin Philharmonic plays with all the luster, enthusiasm, and sensitivity that were missing from Karajan’s ossified run-throughs with the same orchestra on Deutsche Grammophon. The “Spring” Symphony is imbued with sunshine in Kubelik’s hands (if not the joyful abandon of Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic on DG). The Adagio of the Symphony No. 2 features some lovely (but not lachrymose) phrasing in the yearning string passages, and Kubelik’s finale, seemingly slow at first (sounding like a commencement march), takes on an unusual and welcome grandeur as the movement progresses. A bracing performance of Schumann’s turgid “Genoveva” overture caps this enjoyable program. The natural sounding 1960 recording, though lacking the impact of today’s best, is decent for its time. The BPO never did Schumann better than this.
Rafael Kubelik brings to Schumann’s last two symphonies the same qualities he did to the First and Second. He suffuses the music with an engagingly warm glow and conducts with keen insight into the emotional nature of the works. The Berlin Philharmonic again is inspired to make beautifully sonorous sounds, masterfully articulated and executed. Kubelik’s balances allow the woodwinds to be heard more prominently than usual, giving the music a pastoral patina, exemplified in the flute-led finale of the Rhenish. The first movement, however, is brimming with strength and energy, as are the Fourth Symphony’s first movement and finale. And if Kubelik’s Fourth doesn’t have the incisiveness, clarity, and propulsion of George Szell’s unequaled recording on Sony Classical, it compensates with a human, singing quality that is uniquely compelling. The Manfred overture opens with a legato wash of chords that makes you wonder if Karajan had not taken over the recording session. But no, the poetry and passion that follow are vintage Kubelik, whose triumphant reading handsomely ends this disc. As in the prior Eloquence release, the remastered sound lacks today’s clarity and dynamism but is suitably well-balanced and perfectly enjoyable.