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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 1 in D major D.82 (1813) [25:35]
Symphony No. 3 in D major D.200 (1815) [24:32]
Symphony No. 8 in B minor D.759 Unfinished (1822) [28:17]
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Jonathan Nott
Rec. Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Bamberg, March, December 2003. DDD
TUDOR 7141 [79:23]

Apart from the Great C major, the Schubert symphonies are not on the same level as his finest lieder, chamber music and piano sonatas. Nevertheless they are delightful works that should be in every collection.

This disc is the first instalment of a newly recorded cycle from Bamberg Symphony Orchestra under Jonathan Nott. There is plenty of competition out there from a decade or two back with the likes of Abbado and Marriner, and Goodman on period instruments. There is also a recent cycle from Sir Colin Davis which Peter Lawson rated highly earlier in the year (see review).

Evan Dickerson clearly did not like this issue, preferring silence - which is, of course, wonderful when you can get it (see review ). My reaction was substantially different. I found myself repeatedly admiring the playing of the Bambergers and the recorded sound was excellent. I have listened it alongside other recordings I know and love – Böhm’s Unfinished, Beecham’s 3rd and Goodman’s 1st, and feel that this is up there with the best. True, Nott’s approach is not a traditional one, and tempi are generally on the slow side (except for the minuets in Nos. 1 and 3 which are fast) but I do not feel that he wanders beyond the spirit of Schubert. The earlier symphonies are joyful works which lack great substance. There are many interesting touches in these fresh-sounding renditions, for example the use of slight decrescendos during the final notes of both works.

New recordings of such repertoire do need to look at the music through today’s eyes and Nott is clearly trying to do that. Most controversial, I suspect, will be the first movement of the Unfinished, which is taken much more slowly than usual. How much moderato does Allegro moderato allow I wondered on first listening? But this movement grew on me a lot with repeated listening (at 16 or so minutes a time – Böhm takes less than 12). The Andante which follows is lyrical and poised with lovely woodwinds. Performed in this way the Unfinished more clearly points to the Great C major than is usually apparent. Ultimately, I was convinced by Nott but I do agree that playing about 20 seconds of the unfinished third movement ending in mid-air is not a positive attribute. In practice, it means you need to program it out or be faced with a stark reminder of how unfinished the work is, just when you thought it had finished. I do not find the material to be uninspired and rather like Brian Newbould’s realisation of it, which Neville Marriner has recorded.

The presentation is attractive: a thick booklet with nice feel to it and an acceptable ratio of facts per gram. On the front Klimt’s marvellous picture of "Schubert at the piano" (er ... what piano?) is a good choice though sadly curtailed. The Unfinished is here described as No 7; at least Evan Dickerson and I agree that No 8 is the normal designation but no doubt that could also be debated. The problem is that Schubert not only didn’t finish No 7 in E D.729 but he didn’t leave it in a state where any of it could be played. Brian Newbould has realised the work for performance and it is included in Marriner’s set. We can safely assume that it won’t be part of this cycle.

All said, this is probably a disc that you’ll either love or hate – if you get the chance, give it a spin and find out.

Patrick C Waller
see also Review by Evan Dickerson

Link to Peter Lawson’s review of the Davis set:




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