seems to be particularly well served in the CD catalogues at
the moment and I for one am most happy with the extensive choice
available across his broad range of genres. The Warner
Classics label have re-released this four disc box set of recordings
that were originally available at full-price on Teldec 4509-91184-2.
The only difference from the acclaimed 1993 Teldec set that
I am aware of is the inclusion of the two seldom heard D major
and C major Overtures in the Italian Style, from
1817. Several of the original Teldec recordings have also been
released on Warners’ Elatus and Apex labels.
understand that Maestro Harnoncourt has studied Schubert’s own
manuscripts and has removed many of the inauthentic amendments
that have ended up in the printed editions. Readers may well
be aware that musicologist Stefano Mollo undertook a similar
exercise for Claudio Abbado on his complete set with the Chamber
Orchestra of Europe on Deutsche Grammophon. Some of Harnoncourt’s
corrections are consistent with Abbado’s, such as the deletion
of the eight bars that were added to the first movement exposition
of the Fourth Symphony. However, there is little consistency
as Harnoncourt does not make the same corrections as Abbado
to the andante and the scherzo of the Ninth
Symphony. The otherwise excellent Warner booklet notes are
rather unhelpful in this area, offering no information about
the methodology or the actual corrections made.
close friend Johann Vogl said of him shortly after their first
meeting, “There is not enough of the charlatan about him.”
These words perhaps suggest that Schubert was less than a streetwise
character, a sort of innocent abroad who took his style of musical
integrity too seriously, for Schubert’s undoubted gift was for
spontaneous and lyrical melody. He turned out melody after melody
inspired by his contact with everyday scenes and the emotions
of real life. Schubert was strongly influenced by the music
that he was studying and hearing: firstly the operas of the
Italian masters, which had been recommended to him by Salieri.
He then advanced to the music of Haydn, Rossini, Mozart and
latterly some Beethoven.
am in agreement with the view that Schubert’s orchestration
is superbly warm and colourful, rarely at fault technically.
There may occasionally be ill-judged effects of balance but
this is seldom experienced. Music writer Warwick Thompson describes
Schubert’s music as having the qualities of, “simplicity,
a great sense of vision, and a total lack of pretension ...
Schubert’s mature work is never less than a miracle of concision;
there is nothing wasted; nothing superfluous; nothing padded
or palmed off. ” Musicologist Eric Bloom refers to Schubert
as the most transparent of composers and has written about his
conspicuous and repeatedly used trademark procedure of distributing
harmonic light and shade in his scores by his free and frequent
use of interchange of the major and minor keys.
early symphonies are soundly classical in form and not surprisingly
they are highly influenced by Haydn and Mozart in form and style,
scarcely foreshadowing the greatness that was to come. Schubert’s
two symphonic masterworks, the Symphony No. 8 ‘Unfinished’
and the Symphony No. 9 ‘Great’ contain his unmistakable
musical fingerprints; his wonderful lyricism; engaging personal
charm and his special Viennese gemutlichkeit.
the first three Symphonies: D major D82; B
flat major D125 and D major D200, composed between
1811 to 1814, Harnoncourt superbly directs the Concertgebouw
in performances faithful to the Viennese classical tradition.
Maestro Harnoncourt never tries to plumb imaginary emotional
depths; yet there is an innate sense of discovery from the first
bar to the last. The slow movement’s rhythmic pulse is strongly
emphasised and the tonal richness of the Concertgebouw strings
is memorable. There is a touch too much weightiness given to
the menuettos; an observation that has been levelled
at other versions.
composing his Third and Fourth Symphonies Schubert
became acquainted with Beethoven’s music. The Symphony No.
4 in C minor, D417 ‘Tragic’ from 1816 betrays the
influence of Beethoven. The four-note rhythm that pervades virtually
the whole of the score is not unlike the one that dominates
the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The
‘tragic’ pretensions of Schubert’s Fourth, the
only one in a minor key, are not cut from the heart-on-sleeve
cloth of Tchaikovsky and the world-embracing epics of Mahler.
It has been said that the ‘tragedy’ that Schubert was now infusing
into some of his writing was an attempt to produce another ‘Eroica’.
The subtitle of ‘Tragic’ it appears was appended by the
composer to the some time after the work’s completion.
popular second movement andante of the ‘Tragic’
is given an especially fine performance accentuating the buoyant
melodies. In the finale Harnoncourt brings out
the strikingly original harmonies of a true Romantic character.
As an alternative I am impressed by the intensity of the account
from Carlo Maria Giulini and the New Philharmonia Orchestra,
recorded live at the Edinburgh Festival in 1968, on BBCL 4093-2
c/w Beethoven Missa Solemnis.
Symphony No. 5 in B flat major from 1816 is generally
acknowledged as one of Schubert’s three most loved symphonies.
Although the classical structure and style of Haydn and Mozart
are present, neither could have composed the B flat major
score owing to Schubert’s remarkable facility for individual
first and final movements of the B flat major Symphony are
buoyant and light-hearted and here display appropriate measures
of Haydnesque wit, Mozartian grace and lightness of touch. Harnoncourt
is patient and controlled throughout the inordinately long and
sentimental slow movement, with the Concertgebouw strings and
woodwind in outstanding form. I would not wish to be without
the beautiful performance from Karl Böhm and the Vienna Philharmonic
Orchestra on a Deutsche Grammophon ‘The Originals’ series 447
433-2, c/w Beethoven Symphony No.6 ‘Pastoral’.
Symphony No. 6 in C major, D589 dating from 1818 is sometimes
known as the ‘Little’ C Major’ to distinguish
it from the later, larger and greater C major Symphony No.
9. The ‘Little’ C Major’ score, which just
predates his famous chamber masterwork the ‘Trout’ Quintet D667,
is generally one of the least regarded of Schubert’s Symphonies.
Musicologist David Ewen states that, “It is one of the least
interesting of Schubert’s symphonies. Nor does fresh lyrical
invention compensate for an overall monotony of style.”
In this ‘Little’ C Major Symphony Schubert for the
first time moves away from his usual third movement menuetto
and clearly marks the movement a scherzo.
the ‘Little’ C Major Symphony the excellent woodwind
section of the Concertgebouw have significant roles, especially
in the opening movement and are to be congratulated for their
pleasing mellow tone. There is particularly fine playing in
the fleetness of the third movement scherzo in which
mainly energetic material is interspersed with contrasting episodes
of calm and sobriety in the trio. The interpretation
of the sober finale is most successful, superbly moulding
both the capricious first subject and the second subject which
is presented in a perpetual-motion style. Harnoncourt and his
players crank-up an impressive head of steam to the score’s
orchestral masterwork the ‘Unfinished’ Symphony No.
8 in B minor, D759 remains one of the most perennial mysteries
of classical music. Intended as a gift to the Graz Music Society
to show his gratitude for his honorary diploma, no one knows
for certain why Schubert failed to complete the Symphony
leaving only two sublime and almost perfect movements and a
nine measures of an intended scherzo.
work is a moderately paced symphony in triple-time and there
is often a temptation by conductors to lose control and flex
their muscles inappropriately. In this case Harnoncourt provides
an impressively poignant mood throughout and Schubert’s ravishingly
beautiful themes are performed with considerable affection.
The interpretation ensures the impact of the dramatic climaxes
and the effect of the dynamic contrasts. The Concertgebouw woodwind
do their level best with their rich and velvety tone to demonstrate
the accuracy of Julius Harrison’s belief that Schubert’s woodwind
writing in the ‘Unfinished’ Symphony was, “sheer
inspiration”. This is a superbly performed account with
most attractive, highly stylish and restrained playing.
remain impressed with the recording of the ‘Unfinished’
Symphony that John Pritchard made with the London Philharmonic
Orchestra in 1975 at Watford Town Hall, available on Classics
for Pleasure 5748852, c/w Symphony No. 9 in C major,
D944 ‘Great’. I still have my original vinyl version
of the Pritchard on Music for Pleasure label CFP 40370. Those
who have a penchant for historical recordings may wish to search
out a recently released ‘Unfinished’ from Wilhelm Furtwängler
and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, that I am informed was
recorded in January 1950. It is available on the budget Ermitage
score of the ‘Great’ C major Symphony No. 9, D944,
dated March 1828, was discovered by Robert Schumann amongst
numerous manuscripts held by Schubert’s brother Ferdinand. In
a letter to his wife, Clara Schumann, he penned these immortal
words: “I have found a symphony of heavenly length”.
Of the many accolades given to this wonderful symphony, Mendelssohn
described the score as, “Bright, fascinating and original
throughout, it stands at the head of his (Schubert’s) instrumental
works.” Musicologist David Ewen has described the score
as containing, “monumental power, profound emotional content,
great complexity and individuality.” It should be noted
that older publications will refer to the ‘Great’ C
major Symphony as the Symphony No. 7 owing to the original
order of publication.
with impressive bite and energy maintains a seemingly unstoppable
forward momentum in the vast opening movement; the longest Schubert
ever wrote in a symphony. The second movement andante
is described by musicologist Brian Newbould as a, “not-very-slow
slow movement (like that of Beethoven’s seventh)”. The extremes
of lyricism and dynamism are expressively and compellingly interpreted
and in the vast scherzo there is tremendous weight and
considerable vigour. Unlike many readings Harnoncourt refuses
to take the stupendous climax at a tremendous speed preferring
to concentrate on maintaining a controlled intensity and tension.
have a particular fondness for the acclaimed account of the
‘Great’ C major from the Bavarian Radio Symphony
Orchestra under Eugen Jochum which I believe was recorded in
1958. It is available on Deutsche Grammophon 477 5354, c/w
Symphony No.5 in B Major, D485. Some readers will recall
this Jochum recording being available on Pickwick’s Contour
Red Label on vinyl CC 7512, back in 1981.
this critically acclaimed set Harnoncourt directs wonderful
playing from the Concertgebouw and displays impressive sensitivity
allowing the listener to appreciate nuance and detail. The main
competition is the award winning 1988 set from Claudio Abbado
and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe on five discs (Deutsche
Grammophon 423 651-2). Although I marginally favour Harnoncourt
for the extra element of control neither of these wonderful
sets will disappoint. I also admire the complete set from the
experienced Haydn conductor Sir Colin Davis and the Dresden
State Orchestra on RCA 09026 62673-2. Another worthy of consideration
is from Karl Böhm and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, on
Deutsche Grammophon 417 307-2.
Teldec engineers for Warner Classics have provided a wonderful
sound quality throughout and musicologist Brian Newbould’s scholarly
essay is outstanding. A highly recommendable set.