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: