In this superb audiophile package of the four symphonies of Robert Schumann, Simon Gaudenz, and the Odense Symphony Orchestra give clear and focused performances that serve to clarify the often-criticized orchestration and to create a nearly chamber-like atmosphere in many passages. By avoiding the conventional homogenous orchestral blend, reducing vibrato in the strings, and emphasizing the distinctive timbres of the woodwinds and brass, Gaudenz brightens Schumann's timbral palette considerably and balances dynamics to make textures more transparent. Beyond this, Gaudenz keeps the tempos fleet and the rhythms spry, and opens up the music to let it breathe.
Hailed by some as the third primary figure among great Russian pianists of the twentieth century's second half, Lazar Berman has occasionally lived up to that reputation, but frequently has not. Emil Gilels, the first genius-level Soviet pianist to become well-known in the West, insisted that there was one artist, yet unheard in the West, who was the greater artist. Later, after Sviatoslav Richter's arrival in Europe and America, most felt Gilels had been correct. Still later, however, Gilels maintained that yet another pianist, Lazar Berman, was the finest of the three. After the initial stir created by Berman's 1976 American tour and other appearances in the West, critical opinion held that, while he was an extraordinary if uneven artist, he was not superior to the protean Richter or to the clear-minded Gilels. Still, his art was of an order by no means common.
This is a reissue of Mahler performances delivered in Cologne in 1992 and 1993, and Thomas Quasthoff, just on the verge of international fame, was in phenomenal voice. The upper extension of his beautiful, expressive bass-baritone is thrilling, in perfect control. Artistically, he only grew stronger, as evidenced by his searing reading of 'Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen' under Boulez (DG), but this earlier interpretation comes close, and there's no comparison so far as vocalism is concerned. The WDR orchestra plays well under the rather prosaic leadership of the late Gary Bertini (a native Russian who emigrated to Palestine as a child in the 1930s)– both are good enough, and the recorded sound is excellent. In all, this is a shattering reading by Quasthoff that should be heard by every lover of Mahler.