Schubert sonatas

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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 8 in B minor D759 Unfinished (1822) [24;15]
Symphony No. 9 in C major D944 The Great (1825-8) [55:07]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. Berlin, December 1951 (No. 9) and February 1952 (No.8)
MUSIC AND ARTS CD-1218 [79:24]
Experience Classicsonline

As the late John Ardoin’s booklet notes remind one, Furtwängler was by no means an extensive performer – much less recorder – of Schubert’s music. The last two symphonies certainly and Rosamunde represent the boundaries of his real engagement. Apparently he never performed the Second Symphony and whilst he did perform Nos 3, 4 and 5 he never did so after the Second World War. His turning away from No.5 in particular seems odd if not wilful.
Music & Arts here disinters his live 1952 performance of the Unfinished and the commercial Great. The notes reprise Ardoin’s wise summaries derived from his book The Furtwängler Record which have the advantage of documenting the surviving material and analysing in detail that varies from relatively extensive to necessarily brief. Whether one agrees with his judgements or not the analysis is persuasive, and I happen – on rather less comprehensive appreciation and knowledge of the surviving commercial and off-air survivals - to trust his view.
There was a 1948 Berlin performance of the Unfinished followed by the commercial 1950 Vienna recording for EMI, then this 1952 Berlin broadcast, followed in turn by the RAI Turin performance from a few weeks later, and other Berlin traversals from 1953 and 1954. A truncated Allegro moderato (only) exists from a wartime (Stockholm) Vienna Philharmonic and there are post-war rehearsal segments from Berlin. An important omission therefore is any surviving complete wartime broadcast, one that might have thrown the post-war material – given the conductor’s galvanic, often titanic 1941-44 material – into profound relief. Nevertheless this 1952 performance is imbued with his rapturous metrical freedoms, an omission - habitual it would seem - of the first movement repeat, and a constant sense of flux, of motion deferred and acceded to, and of lyrical proportions taking their rightful place in the schema. It’s notably well played as well.
The Great offers a different perspective. Here wartime performances do exist - Berlin from 1942 and Stockholm (with the Vienna Philharmonic) in 1943. There are also two post war inscriptions off air with both orchestra as well as this 1951 studio performance. The 1942 is the most visceral, the most potent and also the most undisciplined, something that this later performance doesn’t share to nearly the same degree. Ardoin locates a certain artificiality in the first movement introduction of this performance – which I would attribute to the conductor not being able to settle in time for his studio joust with the red light. In all other respects the performance is sonorous, commanding with a characteristically slow Andante, its con moto marking tending to dissolve in the warmth of the conductor’s direction.
These performances have been out before. For these inscriptions Lani Spahr has used the so-called ‘harmonic balancing’ technique, one I’ve commented on before in its varied guises. The brass leap out in the Unfinished whilst the winds in particular are vivid and very forward in the Great. Balance realignment has been sensitively employed here; others may prefer balances derived from older transfers; but there’s no gainsaying the vivid dynamic range engendered here.
Jonathan Woolf  


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