Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)
Symphony No. 9 in C, D944, "The Great" (1828) (58.08)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Recorded at the Concergebouw, Amsterdam, November 1992
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1890 - 1847)
Die Schöne Melusina, Op. 32; Concert Overture (1833) (12.19)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded at Philharmonie Hall, Berlin, January 1995
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor
WARNER CLASSICS ELATUS 0927-46750-2 [70.37]


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This work of Schubert is astonishing, overwhelming, no matter how many times you’ve heard it. Built out of ordinary classical period bricks and mortar, in uninspired hands it can be an excruciating 60 minutes of hum-de-dum (e.g., the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1956). But played by motivated musicians it arouses an all but erotic sense of lightness in the belly, a breathlessness, light-headedness. (track 1) It is like the morning sun slowly rising through the mist after a heavy snow. It is a flamenco festival of frenzied stamping rhythms and hats thrown high in the air. (track 4) There is about it a Tristan-like sense of ever rising modulation, of ever brightening luminosity. The quotation in the last movement from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is really a joke, because after this work not only Götterdämmerung but even Le Sacre were inevitable. Tovey suggested that if Schubert had lived his full life he would have rendered all of Brahms superfluous. Is it really so surprising then that at the rehearsals for the first performance at the Gewandhaus this most solemnly professional orchestra then in the world just started laughing and couldn’t stop?

The all time great recording of the work is by George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra from 1957 on Sony, dated sound and all. The ecstatic poetic images of my previous paragraph are fully manifested. The tempo is brisk and actually rock steady, but there is the sense of rapid acceleration throughout. The music lifts into the air and does not touch ground again until the final cadential chord. There should be a label on the box warning persons tending to high blood pressure not to listen. Harnoncourt is every bit as good, but different here and there, and has the edge of exquisitely full, rich, transparent sound. Another exceptional recent recording, Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, is a very honourable third choice. The voltage is a little lower. The sound is well balanced with excellent depth. The colors are brighter with the shadows a little more crimson. The coupling is a superb Rosamunde/Zauberharfe Overture. It is for those who, like Ulysses, prefer to listen to the siren song securely chained to the masthead. One of these three, all of them if you can, must be in every collection.

The djin in this work apparently does not restrict itself the music which has ever been the victim of shifting appellation. Produced in utterly unannotated form by the composer, it was called the "Great C Major" (to distinguish it from Schubert’s Symphony #6, called by the same people the "Little C Major") and this is now sometimes shortened to just "The Great." Originally numbered 7, then 9, most scholars have now re-fastened it securely in place as #7, yet on the original issue of this recording it was billed for the first time as "#8," while on the label for this reissue of the same recording it is announced as "#9." Stay tuned!

Mendelssohn (Who conducted that premier performance of the Schubert in Leipzig) was inspired to write his concert overture Fair Melusina (track 5) upon hearing Conrad Kreutzer’s opera Melusine in 1833, sort of to show how it ought to have been done. Here she gives us all she’s got to give in these sympathetic hands. She’s a sort of replay of "Fingal’s Cave" with a little more grace and a lot less drama. After the multi-course haute-cuisine of the Schubert, this is a welcome after dinner mint.

Paul Shoemaker


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