One of the most grown-up review sites around
One of the most grown-up review sites around

Search MusicWeb Here


International mailing

Up to 40% off

  Founder: Len Mullenger

Some items
to consider

in the first division

extraordinary by any standards

An excellent disc

a new benchmark

summation of a lifetime’s experience.

Piano Concertos 1 and 2
Surprise Best Seller and now

A Garland for John McCabe


DIETHELM Symphonies

The best Rite of Spring in Years

BACH Magnificat

Brian Symphs 8, 21, 26

Just enjoy it!

La Mer Ticciati








Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
(THE Polish label)
Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Senior Editor
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
Editor in Chief
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


Not available in the USA.

CD: AmazonUK
Download: Classicsonline

Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828)
Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759, Unfinished [23:51]
Symphony No. 9 in C major, D. 944, Great [55:17]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler (8)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler (9)
rec. Musikvereinssaal, Vienna, 9-21 January 1950 (8); Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, November-December 1951 (9)
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.111344 [79:07]

Experience Classicsonline
I had best get one gripe out of the way: nowhere is it made clear on this Naxos disc that, despite the proximity of their recording dates, the Eighth (in reality the Seventh, as we are now aware) is remastered from 78s while the Ninth (the true Eighth) is from LPs and hence in much the better sound. In the former, that familiar “frying tonight” overlay obscures orchestral detail and is much more prominent than on other transfers of 78s of the period that I have heard. Anyone looking for acceptable 1950s mono sound needs to be warned that this is to be found only in the “Great C Major”. This could be enough to deter the casual buyer who is not an historical recording aficionado. The sound for the Ninth is wholly acceptable, but being CEDAR-ised, as is Mark Obert-Thorn’s wont, top frequencies are missing and there is a certain spongy quality about it. This may not worry the listener expecting standard mono sound, but direct comparison with a competitive recording such as Barbirolli’s 1966 Ninth with the Hallé, expertly restored at the Dutton laboratories and offering top-quality stereo sound for a recording of that epoch, soon reveals the difference. Similarly, Szell’s 1960 and 1967 recordings on the super-bargain Sony Essential Classics label provide superior stereo sound.

As much as I admire Furtwängler, I do not necessarily think of him as a natural Schubertian; there is surely something too Prussian and Olympian about his temperament to admit of Viennese charm? He certainly takes no hostages in his annexing of Schubert as the natural son of Beethoven, giving his symphonies a Miltonic grandeur considerably removed from the approaches of my two main comparisons: George Szell and Sir John Barbirolli. I would have liked also to consider Peter Maag, a conductor whose work I almost invariably admire, but on this occasion I find his Schubert relaxed to the point of limpness and must reluctantly discount him. Szell attacks both works with a hectic flush in his cheek, while Barbirolli steers a more genial middle course between Szell’s freneticism and Furtwängler’s ponderousness.

For me, Furtwängler’s Schubert is a mixed blessing. I find the opening movements of both symphonies to be rather stodgy and ponderous; soporific rather than mysterious and in direct contrast to the tension and sense of anticipation generated by Szell. The second movement of the Eighth plods and fails to gain momentum, whereas, again, Szell achieves first delicacy, then a majestic stride, before conjuring a kind of cautious but consolatory tripping motion from the oboes and clarinets. The combination of antique sound and uninspired stoicism from Furtwängler in the Eighth does not tempt me to return this disc, but his Ninth has much more to offer, even if it suffers from muddy sound. The careful, weighty Andante opening is succeeded by a pacier, ostinato Allegro variation but all too soon relapses. Once again I find that Szell brings much more variety in phrasing and dynamics as well allowing the low strings to emerge with greater clarity. A third successful way is found in Barbirolli’s more affectionate manner, an approach enhanced by the spacious recorded sound given to him by Dutton.

Furtwängler sells the Andante con moto short on “moto”; his march is more of a stolid trudge and the oboes do not swing as they should, while his rather deliberate application of rubato seems mannered compared with the more natural pacing of both Szell and Barbirolli. It is as if Furtwängler is too determined to underline that this movement is Schubert’s tribute to the Allegretto of Beethoven's 7th Symphony and thus neglects the music’s wit and sprightliness. Similarly, the Scherzo is heavily accented and almost menacing; the waltz does lilt as it does with Barbirolli. Meanwhile, Szell goes for an entirely different effect, risking all by shaving an incredible four minutes off the timing at 7:20 compared with Furtwängler’s 11:20. I am not sure that Szell’s was a wise choice but the effect is certainly arresting, whereas Furtwängler risks sounding merely dull.

It is in the fourth movement that Furtwängler could be said to redeem and justify his interpretation. While Szell opts for a scurrying exuberance, abetted by a virtuoso orchestra who are clearly up for that approach, Furtwängler achieves a kind of demonic intensity as he pounds out that insistent 2/4 beat. His phrasing is still very measured but he builds inexorably towards the Beethovenian bacchanale of the Coda. There is a wholly appropriate sense of homecoming when the clarinets triumphantly sound the “Freude, schöner Götterfunken” quotation. Barbirolli also commands a sure sense of the architecture of this movement, and although his Allegro vivace is the slowest on paper, it never flags, and he too conveys a sense of martial consanguinity with Beethoven as his forces charge into a glorious C major.

Beyond offering caveats regarding the quality of sound on this Naxos disc, I do not presume to create a hierarchy for these three great conductors in this music; it is very much a subjective question of personal taste. My own preference is for Barbirolli, Szell, then Furtwängler, as the latter still does not strike me as being wholly at ease with Schubert’s mercurial gifts, being a Berliner grappling with Viennese subtlety – but that fourth movement is a thing of wonder in Furtwängler’s hands.

Ralph Moore

see also reviews by Jonathan Woolf and Michael Cookson



Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Pat and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.