> SCHUBERT Symphonies 8 9 Wand [CC]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphonies – No. 8 in B minor, D759, ‘Unfinished’; No. 9 in C, D944, ‘Great’.
Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/Günter Wand.
Recorded in 1980 (‘Unfinished’) and 1977 (‘Great’) [ADD]
RCA RED SEAL 74321 6800-7-2 [78.11]


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Günter Wand is a natural Schubertian whose interpretations have given much joy and inspiration over the years. The present performances come from Deutsche Harmonia Mundi originals and represent the Maestro’s thoughts from the late nineteen-seventies to the early eighties on these pieces (a coupling of Eight and Nine on RCA Red Seal from 1995 with the Berlin Philharmonic exists on 09026 68314-2, a two-disc set, and Wand’s 1991 performance of No. 9 is newly available as part of RCA’s Artistes et Répertoires series). To have these symphonies on one disc at low price is a bargain indeed, and one which should be snapped up immediately.

Over many years of experience, Wand has managed to find seemingly ideal speeds for late Schubert, which while giving space for all detail to come through still convey the strength as well as the lyricism of these pieces. There is a supreme inevitability to the Eighth, and yet all the drama is fully there. So the cello second subject of the ‘Unfinished’ is full of warmth and gentilité, and wind solos throughout are finely honed. But the master-stroke comes at the end of the repeated exposition. The effect of observing this repeat is to put into relief the descent which leads into the development: the ensuing passage finds Wand at his most inspired, the tempo slightly but poignantly withheld over ominous bass tremolandi. It is a reminder of a BBC Symphony Orchestra performance I heard in the RFH some years ago, where the effect was absolutely breath-taking. The reappearance of this passage in the coda is ghostly. The second and final movement is scarcely less impressive. A full dynamic range is employed on a movement almost preternaturally lavished with care. The close is incredibly powerful.

The Ninth is a comparable achievement, a million miles away from Mehta’s live 1985 VPO performance I recently reviewed on Orfeo. Many of the traits which so marked out Wand’s Eighth are found here, too: the pacing once more appears perfect and again Wand has the ability to relax the tempo without ever losing the symphonic thread (try the third movement for evidence of this). Wind are delightfully pointed in the second movement and for once the coda of the first movement is not rushed. Although the finale could perhaps have been a touch more rustic at times, this remains an impressive achievement.

A true bargain: there is precious little symphonic Schubert as satisfying as this, at any price.


Colin Clarke


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