Without a doubt, Nikolaus Harnoncourt is one of our most inspired, intellectually thoughtful, conductors. His elegant interpretations of Schubert's symphonies and of Beethoven's too, have earned much ample praise from critics and fans alike. Originally interestedin Baroque and Classical Music, Maestro Harnoncourt has lately made over the past decade a series of truly compelling recordings of some of the most important compositions from noted 19th and 20th Century composers ranging from Brahms and Dvorak to Bruckner and Bartok. However, I can't say that I would regard this early 1990s recording as one of his finest, even though there is still enough to admire from it for me to bestow upon it highest honors. At first glance Harnoncourt and his small orchestral ensemble have made a fascinating, period instrument-influenced recording which emphasizes Schumann's underrated strengths as an orchestral arranger, in two exceptionally well-played performances of the ever popular 3rd "Rhenish" Symphony and the original version of the 4th Symphony, dating from 1841, a year after he composed his stirring, almost jubilant, 1st Symphony.
My major reservation about this recording is Harnoncourt's lack of emphasis on strong, emotional accents in both symphonies, as though composing both works were relatively rational exercises which Schumann practiced eagerly (We know now from his amply documented mental history that the composition of these symphonies were far from trivial exercises steeped in rational thinking.). These are interpretations which have emphasized almost to the exclusion of everything else, both brisk tempi and lighter orchestral textures (In stark contrast to notable recordings from conductor as emotionally dissimilar to each other as David Zinman, Daniel Barenboim, Rafael Kubelik, and Leonard Bernstein for example.). So I have to recommend to those thinking of purchasing this recording that they should regard it as a viable, fascinating alternative to others from the conductors I have mentioned; it is not the definitive recording I was hoping for from Harnoncourt and The Chamber Orchestra of Europe.