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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Franz SCHUBERT (1979-1828)
Symphony No. 9 in C, D944, ‘Great’.
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Le Sacre du Printemps.
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Zubin Mehta.
Live performance from the Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg on August 21st, 1985. [ADD]
ORFEO D'OR C566012B [two discs] [85.53]

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Schubert's ‘Great’ Symphony is true VPO territory, and to catch them live in Salzburg in this piece is a treat indeed. Not that Zubin Mehta is known for his Schubertian credentials, so it is doubly pleasurable to be able to enjoy this generally naturally-paced reading which reveals a decidedly dramatic Ninth. The opening Andante introduction flows nicely. The tempo for the ensuing Allegro ma non troppo is well chosen, and Mehta makes much of the drama (more than most, it has to be said) to ensure cohesion.

The oboe solo which begins the Andante con moto is beautifully pointed, although overall this movement does seem a little hard-pressed, and the strings are liable to chug away with their accompaniment rather than imbue it with Schubertian bounce. The climax of the movement can only be described as vehement, not a usual description for this music. It certainly makes for compulsive listening, although despite the validity of its viewpoint this is not a performance I would like to hear every day.

It is not necessarily that the third movement is under tempo, rather it needs to be more rhythmically sprung than this. The VPO is capable of injecting more air into the score than this; there is more drama to be had, too. The trio, in contrast, is too slow and drags its feet shamefully. If one starts off far too slow, ritardandi which lead in to structurally important recurrences of themes will of necessity sound as if the orchestra (or your CD player) is running out of juice. The finale has brio and (almost theatrical) drama about it and is without doubt the most successful of the four movements. The recording is a good radio recording and reveals a lot of detail within a believable acoustic.

There is no way, however, that this reading can contend with the competition it faces as a serious contender if it is to be one's one and only version. Günter Wand's interpretations are an interpretative league apart (RCA have just reissued his Cologne performance on 74321 84607-2).

The Rite of Spring , in contrast, does not really count as core repertoire for the Viennese, and there are some passages in this performance (especially early on) which can only be described as careful. Other passages, especially from the strings, are jaw-droppingly accurate (are these the ones they rehearsed?). Whatever its failings, as an interpretation, this is an interesting reading. It would appear that Mehta's agenda is to bring a sense of the dance back in to this piece (after all, it is so often heard as a barbaric orchestral showpiece that its raison d'être can be obscured) and it is for this that his account is praiseworthy. He is not afraid to present the layering techniques Stravinsky employs barely, and that is also to his credit. On occasion, he inspires the VPO’s strings to miracles of articulation, but all this is not enough without a clear overall picture of the piece and a full realisation of the power it contains: not really to shock (not these days, anyway) but more accurately to appeal to our baser instincts.

The apotheosis, the ‘Ritual Dance’, is the most violent part of the performance. Is there a sense of desperation from the Viennese string players here which brought this about? Certainly, while the work ends well, it does not end barnstormingly because the accumulation of rhythmic tension is not enough. Gergiev’s amazing new version on Philips (468 035-2, coupled with a positively erotic account Scriabin’s Poème de l’extase) will show you how its done.

Colin Clarke


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