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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 2 in B flat D.125 (1815) [34:02]
Symphony No. 4 in C minor Tragic D.417 (1816) [33:50]
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Jonathan Nott
Rec. Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Bamberg, March, December 2003. SACD Hybrid
TUDOR 7142 [68:04]

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Symphony No. 5 in B flat D.485 (1816) [31:20]
Symphony No. 6 in C D.589 (1818) [33:35]
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Jonathan Nott
Rec. Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Bamberg, March, October 2003. SACD Hybrid
TUDOR 7143 [64:55]

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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 of gear.

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



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