Blind comparison : R. Schumann, Symphony no. 4

Started by Discobole, February 19, 2012, 09:08:10 AM

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Red group reporting in, comments:

1. B3 (excellently judged pacing, very transparent sound)
2. D5 (very passionate, love the sense of push and pull in this performance)
3. B2 (great sense of tension)

And I liked all of them but perhaps A1.

Rankings (greatest to least):


All right, I can't resist longer.

Give me these guys.

mc ukrneal

Very exciting to do this again with a second group. Don't try to use my ratings across both groups. I've been consistent within the groups, but have not tried to be consistent between the two. The ratings are only useful as relative ratings within each group. 
Red Group Summary:
Ok start- not quite as full blooded as it could be, but still ok. Fleeter. Lighter.  Picks up speed and I'm into it big time. It has times that are too staccato. Some small unison issues a couple of times. Nice intensity after the start though. The low brass doesn't quite shine through the way I like, which is the balance issue I have here, but overall I like this version. Rating: 7.5

Slow start (prefer faster), but sounds good anyway, though perhaps a bit heavy. Less intense than the first movement. Return of main theme has nice impact. Grand feeling in the approach. Getting to the fourth movement - And then my favorite part –too clipped! Speed ok, but not the ideal version. Rating: 5 

Overall: Really like the overall approach. Tempi were not always ideal and too clipped in the fourth movement. I don't like that phrasing there either. First movement was very good.

Ranking:  3

Start is good, but then some entrances seem off. Unison strings – poor sound doesn't help, but then they seem to have some wrong notes. There seem to be some unison problems elsewhere as well. And the inconsistency of tempi in a couple moments doesn't endear me to this version. Some bloated moments towards the end of the clip too. Rating: 5

Fast start! Unison not bad, but still a little muddy the first time through – better the second time. And then a sudden slowdown. Huh? Why? And then a speed up. Ok, this I don't like the whipsaw effect of the tempo changes. Horrible.  And this is too staccato in moments too.  Rating: 3

Overall: I didn't like this one. Ignoring the sound, it just has too many issues in too many areas – unison, tempo, phrasing, etc.

Ranking: 6

Starts on the faster side, with some inconsistent tempi by the players. And then we're off to the next section. Better, until the tempo is pulled back so suddenly. There are also some strange balances – where cello come through too strongly or some other instrument is highlighted in a moment where it would not normally feature so prominently.  Rating: 5

Good start on this clip. Much, much better- everything – sound, phrasing, unison, etc. Until the strings/woodwinds are featured and they seem a bit muddy to start and don't really keep up the intensity either. They lose steam/umpff. And then they seem less interesting in the fourth movement too, though speed is good. Rating: 4.5

Overall: Nothing special. Some nice moments, but overall inconsistent and irritating.

Ranking: 4

Don't particularly like the beginning. It's too thin with the woodwinds with little nuance. Balance is odd and while it is speedy, it doesn't have any lyricism – it's almost matter of fact. I'm not feeling it (though the quality of the playing itself is quite good). Too staccato (and clipped at moments). Dynamics are exaggerated a bit at times. The performance gets better after the opening. Never heard a PI recording for Schumann before, but this is what I imagine it would sound like (that or it's a smaller group). Rating: 4

Racing here. I like it fast, but this has no soul to go along with it. So it is exciting, but doesn't get to my soul. Orchestra is playing very well though - one of the best heard in any group (for their precision and unison playing). The soft parts are almost prissy here. Fourth movement lacks impact (though speed is great and maintained). Rating: 4

Overall:  Not enough impact in many areas (outside the fast and exciting bits). A lot of wonderful playing, but the impact is too extreme without enough nuance (and when you really want them to sock it to you – they cannot or don't). While it is not for me, I did like that it is totally different. But it's not one I would ever return to. 

Ranking: 5

Slow beginning, but maintains the momentum. A balm compared to the last, despite slow tempo. Though transition to next section not ideal. Then it takes off. And I am enjoying this ride now. Ooh yeah. I'm liking the approach – lots of detail to be heard, good unison, excellent playing, nice dynamic differentiation (though could have even more), harmonies coming through clearly, etc. Nice long lines in the interpretation too. Strings are a touch strident in moments when exposed.  Rating: 8

Slower than desired tempo to start, but impact is excellent.  Slower section is ok. Dangerously slow towards the end, but here it stays together anyway before the transition to the fourth movement. Somehow, inexplicably, I am still hooked despite them nearly coming to a standstill. I think part of it is that I am hearing more detail in the quieter bits and I like the phrasing. And then – oh yeah. A good speed in the fourth, though could have been a little faster right there at the end of the clip. But since the differentiation is so high, it still works ok. Rating: 7.5

Overall:  This one works. It gave me goose bumps all the way through (especially where they took that big risk with speed, where you think they are going to crash and burn and they don't – a real risk).

Ranking: 1

An oldie! But a good start. Good impact, though on the slower side. Transition loses steam as first. And then we are off to the races in an incredibly exciting version – great unison. Considering the speed and the fullness of the orchestra, it's a remarkable accomplishment. Outstanding version. But then the woodwinds are lost (is this a recording issue – I am going to guess so, but it really makes it hard to evaluate this). Still, loved the approach. Rating: 8

Off to the races – exciting, though perhaps too fast as the details are harder to pass along. Still, much better nuanced than B3. Some less good unison and balance here at moments (could be recording issue). Fourth is a hair more staccato than I prefer, but keeps my attention. Rating: 6

Overall:  I would never recommend this version because of the sound (as a first choice), but some remarkable stuff. I've given it a bit of leeway due to the sound issues, which may not be fair, but I think the overall approach is good. This is a conductor I would have liked to have heard in better sound.

Ranking: 2

Be kind to your fellow posters!!


It was easy.

No, no, no!

B1: Without ever trying to make any music outside main motifs. Unbelievable simplistic. The major question is rising: why, the hell, some people think there is any reason to listen to the classical music. Rank 5.

D1: Definitively nothing common with Schumann. But at least music. Rank 4.


C1: Schumann. Minimalistic Schumann. Nothing special but nothing especially wrong. Rank 3


C3: Interesting, energetic. Introduction to 1st movement not very brave, moreless like a child tune - but at least a tune not some  boring sounds without any reason inserted here by composer who was not able to write good orchestral music.  Rank 2

Yes! Yes!

A5: Good rhetorical performance. From the very first sound you know that it is about something.  Not perfect - little too mendelssohnian conception of playing minor so I miss some energy in exposition of the 1st movement (this energy you can find in C3). But on the other hand I like its conversation-like way of connecting voices and it is sounding exactly like Dvorak because of this. Probably would grow in next listenings. Rank1


I did read some of the comments, but since the numbers mean nothing to me and I won't remember them I think I'd like to join in, if there is time till Sunday evening.


That is so interesting. I'm very curious who is who.

I think I'd like to do the other group too.

My ranking is:

1. C1
2. C3
3. D1
4. B1
5. A5

My short little notes:

A5: too slow, too heavy
B1: a bit too controlled, also slow, but breathing more than A5, also too heavy
D1: over-dramatic, stretched, heavy again, too calculated build-up of arcs, more natural than B1
C1: the first one I like. Flows, sings, natural, still a bit on the heavy side
C3: less than C1. Nice unusual contrasting of voices. Less flow, but not inorganic. A bit calculated again. A bit rushed.

Summary: C1 is the only one I like.



Is there any particular reason why most of this topic is in "white ink" i.e. I can't read most of what you guys are saying?


I enjoyed so much listening to all those different versions of the same piece, how amusing! :D

My votes for the red group:

First place: A1-e1 - The movement was very romantic and lyrical, with great intensity and brilliance; the beginning was a little slow, but it didn't make the piece lack passion, that on the contrary remained powerful and very well-played.
A1-e2 - Very gorgeous, impressive and energetic, it was highly enjoyable; again, the rythm was rather slow, but this didn't compromise the beauty of the performance. It became faster in the 4th movement, good speed, nice tempi.

Second place: C2-e1 - Excellent perfomance, it showed wonderful orchestral harmony and intesity; the beginning was faster, but it kept a right speed and a good balance.
C2-e2 - It had the slowest begginning and it sounded lacking some strenght and power compared with the 1st movement, but the soft sections were extremely melodious and enchanting. The short part of the 4th movement was very good, it had a nice speed and sounded stirring.

Third place: B2-e1- This one was an old recording, but I didn't have problems because of this; the rythm was much faster (just as I expected anyway), but the piece was very powerful and vigorous.
B2-e2 - Very quick, but also very enjoyable, harmonic and well-played.

The others, in order:
D5 - Old recording; it was pretty good and it had a good intesity, even if the instruments didn't seem to always play in unison.
A4 - The 1st movement started with grat energy, but the rythm was too uneven, fast in the Vivace, too slow in the following section; the sound of the cello after the brass was too strong, not harmonic enough; the 3rd movement was rather moving, but it lacked a bit of expressive power in the final part.
B3 - Not particularly brilliant beginning, despite having a nice speed and being played in a precise, clear way. It didn't have enough passion and melodic strenght, the notes were too sharp.
"Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire." - Gustav Mahler


Here is my RED vote:

EDIT: I changed D5 and A4 to equal, because of the chaos in D5.

1. D5 & A4
2. C2
3. B3
4. A1
5. B2

My notes:

C2: Passionate, heavy, not bad, a bit stron accentuations, e2 too triumphant
D5: That is music! e2: Some chaos in the orchestra, less convincing than e1
A4: Near, equal to D5? No, could have more flow.
B3: Too fast, not breathing. e2: totally un-romantic
A1: slowish, not breathing, not bad, uninteresting
B2: Wilful, strange stops, unnatural

John Copeland

D1 in the yellow group.  My favourite.
I am having trouble understanding why this has been eliminated, or is due for elimination.  Really.  And even worse is A1 being at the top, which was my least favourite.   :-\  I am starting to think I listen to music the wrong way round or upside down.  I can find NOTHING in A1 to heartily recommend it and almost everything in D1 to advocate and promote it.  But so many others hear it the other way around.  It is mighty confounding, I can only hope the result will provide me with some redemption.   :'(

mc ukrneal

Quote from: Scots John on February 24, 2012, 05:54:35 PM
D1 in the yellow group.  My favourite.
I am having trouble understanding why this has been eliminated, or is due for elimination.  Really.  And even worse is A1 being at the top, which was my least favourite.   :-\  I am starting to think I listen to music the wrong way round or upside down.  I can find NOTHING in A1 to heartily recommend it and almost everything in D1 to advocate and promote it.  But so many others hear it the other way around.  It is mighty confounding, I can only hope the result will provide me with some redemption.   :'(
I'm not sure if we can talk openly about this yet, but you bring up something that is quite interesting - 1) namely the criteria that we all used (where priorities are probably different) and 2) what preconceived ideas we have on the piece. Tempi are probably the most important for me (for this piece - I usually start by trying out the end, something I don't do for any other piece - just like with Verdi's Requiem I start with the Dies Irae and the Tuba Mirum). I could live with stacatto, less than ideal phrasing, and wrong notes if the tempo choices are right. Not everyone will agree with me. But this does perhaps provide you an answer to your question without yet giving away the game for others. If you go back and read my comments, they may give you some additional insight as well.

But this leads to my second point. Should we be open to absolutely anything in the piece or are there 'correct' ways of playing? Here is a more personal choice and one that I don't really think there is an absolute answer. The composer does not always mark every detail either. All I can say, regarding the clips in question, is that even putting my thoughts on the appraoch aside, I felt that the one you liked did not work. We can continue in cloaked form if you want to discuss or wait a day or two to do it openly.

I would add though - who cares if we had different preferences? The most interesting part is to know why we had them.
Be kind to your fellow posters!!


Red was not so easy

All are acceptable for me.


Rank 6: A4 - little too unambiguous

Rank 5: B2 - the same problem but more inventive

Rank 4: D5 - trying to differentiate but in the way which makes it lacking some consistency

Rank 3: A1 - good, it makes some differentiation without lacking consistency, bu it is little to tepid

Rank 2: C2 - good, just good, not brilliant, but everything is on the right place

Yes! Yes!

Rank 1: B3 - it is little crazy, but colourful. I would say it is the most similar to the way, it was played in Schumann time. (But the listeners heard it then in the way we hear A5 from yellow set).



I was thinking about the information the final ranking list will contain.

From my own listening I had real interest only in the ones I found "good", found it quite uninteresting to differentiate within the uninteresting. And if there is great diversity in the opinions they can equal out each other.

For a future comparison I thought about the following way: Everybody listens to all pieces (if they are not too many), and everyone picks just his top rated ones. The result would be a list ordered as to the amount of top ratings a recoding got. So even only one enthusiastic view wouldn't be lost in the result.

Because one person out of ten praising an interpretation means something different than ten finding it just one point above zero, which would look the same in the end result, with the current system.

What do you think?


Quote from: Discobole on February 25, 2012, 02:44:18 AM
Scots John, don't you worry, you're not the only one who likes D1, and liking it is very understandable. After all, it has progressed to the second round, when so many great interpretations have already been eliminated ! Actually, just so you know, I listened to almost 50 versions, sometimes several times, to make the first selection of 20. And it was not an easy job. Therefore there are only great versions here. Everyone is entitled to like a different one among these two groups. The blind comparison is not really meant to say this one is better and the other is bad, but tries to define, by agregating everyone's preference, what would be the "ideal" recording. That means it can hardly be the more personal or original one.
Just to take an example, when Celibidache is in a comparison like that (I don't say he is this time, but I don't say he's not :P ), he is frequently eliminated very quicly. That certainly doesn't mean he was not a great conductor, and that is recordings are bad. He is a myth, his interpretations are, but you listen to them because it's Celibidache, not because it's Beethoven or Schumann or Bruckner...

I really liked D1 too! ;)

My votes for the red group will hopefully be posted tommorow morning.
"Music is ... A higher revelation than all Wisdom & Philosophy"
— Ludwig van Beethoven


Quote from: Discobole on February 25, 2012, 01:08:56 PM
The problem with this idea is that it would actually not reflect as well everyone's preferences. If one person votes for a version A and everyone else for B, then the pro-A is forgotten. Voting for only one version per person would lead to a problem which would be similar of the Tocquevillian critique against democracy (tyranny of the majority). You would then not define the "ideal reference recording" of a work, but the interpretation which is liked by most people. This is not the aim of a blind comparison, for that you just need to see the charts on Amazon.
The Condorcet system allows to define which is the most consensual recording, the version in which qualities are generally recognized by everyone, and about which very few flaws are . A version can even win such a comparison without ever being first in the votes.
Again, that doesn't mean this is the only recording you need to know, or the best one, or everyone's favourite. This is just a little exercise. And this is an occasion to hear some different interpretations too : the result is interesting but the most interesting part is hearing new things, new points of view on a particular musical work.

Hearing new things and new views - I agree. And don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for your efforts, and it is an interesting thing you are doing here, which is what made me wish to take part :)

But I'd still like to discuss the "theoretical" aspects: My idea was that the "result" is the whole list of favourites, not just the one winner. For in politics one has to decide for one thing or the other to be done, while in art you can have a few winners that could never go together :) If for example my favourites all dropped out of the final selection and I had to vote for the "least uninteresting" - wouldn't this vote be almost meaningless and not really indicate much about the value of the selected work?

John Copeland

Quote from: Discobole on February 25, 2012, 02:44:18 AM
mszczuj, you have two A1 and no B2 in your ranking ;D

Scots John, don't you worry, you're not the only one ...

Ach, I didnt notice the white font or I would have responded earlier.  Thank you for your response.  It is Sunday, the day of reckoning for the Schumann 4, and I'm pretty excited to see whose take it is I like so much, and do some analysis on the most popular one.  I think we are all well impressed by the time and process you have invested in these projects, they help us all to understand what it is that makes music tick for us, regardless of how 'popular' ones choice is.  It is an outstanding excercise in the appreciation of quality music.
The real quality here, of course, being my own choice, D1    lolol   :D :D


I'm looking forward to seeing the results and knowing which versions will be eliminated. :)
"Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire." - Gustav Mahler


Quote from: Discobole on February 26, 2012, 04:53:30 AM
9 hours to go :P (and 6 votes to wait for).

I should be able to post my vote before 7.00 :)
"Music is ... A higher revelation than all Wisdom & Philosophy"
— Ludwig van Beethoven


Sorry, I have not had the chance to listen to the red group today so will have to pull out of voting for that selection. Enjoyed making my yellow vote though! :D
Looking forward to seeing the results.
Quote from: Discobole on February 26, 2012, 04:28:43 AM
Beethoven's Große Fuge, his original finale for quartet op. 130 : I'm currently starting to listen more than 40 versions to do the selection).

How impressive, thank you for your dedication to this forum already! :) I am sure that is on behalf of everyone here! :)
"Music is ... A higher revelation than all Wisdom & Philosophy"
— Ludwig van Beethoven