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Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)
Symphony No. 5 in B♭, D 485 (1816) [25:18]
Symphony No. 9 in C, Great, D944 (1825) [49:15]
Polish Sinfonia Juventus Orchestra/Jerzy Semkow
rec. 17-20 December 2008, Pomeranian Philharmonic Concert Hall, Bydgoszcz. DDD
CD ACCORD ACD 146-2 [74:48]

Experience Classicsonline

Schubert’s Fifth Symphony is written in the Wiener Klassik style; it’s a delightful, light-hearted and easy-going piece, very classical, and very “proper”. It does everything a Symphony is supposed to do, and at the right times! If it were a student it would be an A+ student for its perfect attention to detail. The tunes are very whistleable and of exceptional attraction. The first movement is ravishingly bouncy and jaunty, while the slow movement is a beautifully flowing Andante con moto and Semkow hits exactly the right tempo, getting the con moto perfectly. The minuet which follows has a weight to it pointing the way, as did Beethoven in the third movements of his First and Second Symphonies (a minuet and a scherzo respectively) to the real scherzo we now accept as the third of a Symphony’s four movements. The finale is a positively hilarious romp. It’s a marvelous piece and I have always felt it to be much underrated. So I welcome any new recording of the work. Unfortunately, Semkow spoils this performance by using a huge string body (probably the 13. 12. 9. 8. 5 listed in the booklet) which ruins the chamber music-like quality of much of the writing, and swamps the textures in a syrupy manner. Semkow also views the work romantically, whereas it is still, very much, a product of the classical style. Semkow doesn’t repeat the first movement exposition either!

The Ninth Symphony is a different matter. This is, in many ways, a work of the romantic era, full-blooded, big-boned, and magnificent. Starting with a very serious slow introduction, Semkow is perfect here in tempo and style, the Allegro bursts out in joyful exuberance. Semkow never lets the excitement slip for a moment, but he does, ever so slightly, increase the tempo for the start of the recapitulation. The coda doesn’t quite achieve the easy one-in-a-bar so necessary to make this music fleet of foot, but otherwise this is a fine performance. For the Andante Semkow, again, finds exactly the right walking pace for the opening section and relaxes for the second section. Then, however, he pushes the tempo slightly and I found that, even with such a good tempo, he started driving the music and became rather aggressive at times. For the final two movements Semkow yet again manages to find the correct tempi, but suddenly I realized something: whilst this is a very well played performance there’s no real warmth to the interpretation. We have all the notes, an obviously well considered interpretation, but there’s no heart to these performances.

The recorded sound doesn’t help either for it is fierce and rather tubby in places, which makes for a ‘puddingy’ sound in the biggest tuttis. If you’re after a Fifth Symphony which is simply delightful, go no further than Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic (EMI Great Recordings of the Century - CDM 5669842, coupled with the Symphonies 3 and 6) and there are several Ninths which are worth getting hold of: Boult and the London Philharmonic (EMI Great Artists of the Century 5627912, coupled with Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture and Alto Rhapsody) and Colin Davis with the Dresden Staatskapelle (Profil 06038) to mention just two; not to mention several very exciting historical issues.

Bob Briggs  
There’s no heart to these performances…see Full Review 


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