The first volume of
this new cycle of Schubert symphonies
included the First, Third and Unfinished.
That was a standard CD; these two issues
are SACD hybrids. I have only listened
in ordinary stereo but, as previously,
the recorded sound is first-rate with
a pleasing bloom and a natural perspective.
Both issues are well-documented. These
recordings are the first to be made
using the Neue Schubert-Gesamtausgabe.
The playing of the
Bambergers is impressive indeed. Interpretatively,
Nottís approach continues where it left
off Ė relatively weighty readings which
give these works extra substance without
stinting on their charm. As in the first
volume, there are some controversial
tempi which may initially surprise but
this listener was ultimately convinced
of their viability. Most striking in
that respect is the finale of the Fifth
Symphony which lasts over nine minutes;
Beecham takes less than six. This begins
in a rather stately fashion for an Allegro
vivace but the second subject then
sings beautifully without any change
The Second Symphony
is a marvellously assured work for an
eighteen year old. It is sad to think
that it was first performed in public
fifty years after Schubertís death.
Opening with an arresting slow introduction,
the first movement is full of vigour
and there is some beautiful work by
the woodwinds to savour. The poised
and lyrical Andante is followed
by a minuet which Nott takes as quickly
as possible. The finale recreates the
joyful mood of the first movement and
adds "Haydnesque" touches
of humour. Occasional serious moments
are soon seen off and, listening to
this, one could not doubt that the musicians
were enjoying themselves.
The Fourth Symphony
was written a year later and is Schubertís
first in a minor key. It is here given
the soubriquet Tragic, a title
which the composer is thought to have
added later but which is something of
an overstatement. Again, the work was
not performed in public in Schubertís
lifetime. The slow introduction is much
weightier than in the Second Symphony
and Nottís rendition is deeply-felt.
The transition to Allegro is
negotiated perfectly, Nott then choosing
a slowish main tempo for this movement.
The bittersweet Andante which
follows is one of Schubertís finest
slow movements and is most touchingly
given in this performance. The prevailing
atmosphere remains on the dark side
even in the Minuet but both there and
in the finale one senses that Schubertís
sense of fun had to be deliberately
checked. Nott is alive to every change
of mood and brings this very fine version
of the work to a rousing conclusion.
The Fifth Symphony
was performed within a year of its composition
by an amateur orchestra with Schubert
in the violas. It is a personal favourite
of mine and Beechamís recording of it
is the most effective anti-depressant
I know. Yet there are other ways to
play it and Nott is perhaps more effective
at making the case for this being "great"
music. No slow introduction to the first
movement here but straight into the
joyous exposition of a movement in which
Schubertís natural lyricism was allowed
free rein. The slow movement too unfolds
naturally and flows beautifully. The
minuet hits G minor for a brief touch
of the darker side Ė this was surely
chipped off the block of Mozartís 40th.
I have already mentioned the finale
above; here the Bambergers use the slow
tempo to make the phrasing really count.
The Sixth Symphony
(or Little C major) reverts to
including a slow introduction. As Alfred
Beaujean suggests in the booklet, Rossini
was a bigger influence than Mozart in
this work but despite Vienna "being
in the grip of Rossini fever" at
the time there is no record of a public
performance until just after Schubertís
death. For the first time Schubert designated
the third movement "scherzo"
and this is arguably the most impressive
movement. In Nottís hands the influence
of Beethoven is very clear. The finale
is marked Allegro moderato and
that tempo is captured perfectly.
Both these discs are
recommendable, as will be the cycle
in general, assuming the Great
C major symphony lives up to what has
gone before. This coupling of Second
and Fourth is particularly treasurable
and would be ideal for anyone look to
plug such a gap in their collection.
The Fifth and Sixth are rather more
controversial but I found them refreshing.
Patrick C Waller