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Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828)
Symphony No. 1 in D Major, D.82 (1813)
Symphony No. 2 in B Flat Major, D.125 (1815)
Symphony No. 3 in D Major, D.200 (1815)
Symphony No. 4 in C Minor, D.417 "Tragic" (1816)
Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Major, D.485 (1816)
Symphony No. 6 in C Major, D.589 (1818)
Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, D.759 "Unfinished" (1822)
Symphony No. 9 in C Major, D.944 "Great" (1828)
An interview with Yehudi Menuhin (In German – translations in English and French).
Sinfonia Varsovia/Yehudi Menuhin
Rec. 20–29 Jan 1997, Studio 1, Polish Radio, Warsaw. DDD
APEX 2564 60530-2 [236.47], excluding talk [33.13]


A few years ago, I remember hearing a talk given by William Boughton, the conductor and founder of the English Sinfonia. He told a tale about Hungarian and other Eastern Bloc ensembles being generally unable to stop themselves from racing forward, unless reined in by a very insistent conductor. On the evidence of this 4/5 disc set from Apex, Yehudi Menuhin is a conductor who obviously likes to give an orchestra its head.

Including period performances, this is one of the fastest played cycles of these glorious symphonies I have ever heard. If it were not for the presence and timbre of modern instruments, these readings would probably be praised as historically accurate.

Schubert started writing symphonies at the tender age of 16, and continued through his relatively short life whilst at the same time pouring out many other works in all types: songs, choral, chamber works, ballets etc. He produced some of the loveliest vocal pieces ever written.

The First Symphony, written when the composer was 16, is influenced by the then current masters of the form, Haydn, Mozart and early Beethoven. These early works were produced at a rate of one every year on average, quite impressive when you consider everything else the composer was engaged in.

All of the early symphonies (1–4) were written in major keys and are bright, tuneful works. They give much pleasure, particularly when played as they are here, and recorded in clear, and well balanced audio quality.

By the time we reach Number 5, Schubert appears to be regressing to before Haydn and Mozart. He dispenses with trumpets and drums, clarinets and second flute. With all of this reduction, we end up with one of Schubert’s most popular symphonies, showing once and for all that big is not necessarily beautiful. Is this one of the first examples of minimalism?

No. 6 returns to the more normal forces with the addition of the by now obligatory trombones. These were used by other composers as the symphony became both more complex and more noisy. We now see definite influences of Beethoven and also of Rossini, who was all the rage at the time in Vienna.

Numbers 8 and 9 show Schubert’s mastery of the symphonic form. These two last symphonies are often imbued with an almost religious atmosphere by other conductors. Here they are played again with all haste and vigour, which I find enormously attractive.

This is a set to treasure, and to enjoy over and over again. This is particularly true if you are sick of listening to more sanctimonious performances which reduce the composer to a museum piece. Here, we have a young vigorous artist, thoroughly enjoying his mastery as a symphonic composer, played by an orchestra and conductor who seem hell-bent on getting as much fun and freshness out of this music as possible.

Highly recommended, particularly at the low price. From the format of the set (i.e. with separate comprehensive notes in each individual case) it would appear that these discs may become available separately at a later date. This is of no matter as they are all worth hearing.

John Phillips



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