Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony no. 8 in B minor, D 759 Unfinished (1822) [24:06]
Symphony no. 9 in C major, D 944 Great (1825) [53:36]
Staatskapelle Dresden/Herbert Blomstedt
rec. 23-24 February 1978 (D 759), 23-27 March 1981 (D 944), Lukaskirche, Dresden. ADD

These Schubert recordings were made during Herbert Blomstedt’s tenure as chief conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden, a post he held from 1975 to 1985.
Schubert’s influence on Bruckner has been commented on in relation to the Eighth. It’s illuminating observation, and there are certainly many similarities, starting with the hushed opening, subtly lit here and there by horn chords. This recording has good bass extension, giving the pizzicato accompaniment in cellos and basses some weight. The cellos are also in good voice for the second subject. Dynamics are graduated over the full range from pianissimo to fortissimo, and the long crescendos are carefully built. The second movement could have been taken a little more con moto. István Kertész’s 1963 recording with the Vienna Philharmonic, however, takes almost a minute longer. Blomstedt in Dresden lovingly brings out the inner parts and manages throughout to find a blend of rich feeling which never becomes sentimental. I prefer this performance to Kertész’s, which lacks subtlety in the more vehement episodes.
The Great symphony is so called both on account of its length, and to distinguish it from the Sixth symphony, also in C major. It begins with what to me is the greatest horn-call in symphonic literature; the spacious Andante introduction growing from this leads into the main Allegro ma non troppo. The horn-call is beautifully played, and seems to hang in the resonant acoustic of the Lukaskirche. The transition to the faster section is very well managed, as are all the transitions, which are free of the ritardandi that can give Schubert performances a sentimental air. The main theme in the Andante con moto is reflective rather than jaunty. This helps to contrast the innocence of the main theme with the anguished episodes with which it alternates. The horn-call that succeeds the big climax is wonderfully played, giving one of those moments in which time seems to stand still. The intense emotional journey in this movement is fully characterised, but always retains a sense of dignity. The unison string phrase that opens the Scherzo has a pleasant bass weight, and the tempo allows the music to dance. There is a sense of nostalgia in the trio, the transitions in and out of which are again smoothly managed. The finale launches vigorously, but an unpleasant hardness has somehow crept into the sound. I listened to the last two movements again in case I had imagined this, but it was evident the second time too. This movement must have been quite a bun-fight for an orchestra of Schubert’s time, and still gives a modern professional orchestra quite a workout; maybe everyone was feeling a bit tense here. Things settle down after this, and the movement proceeds in an athletic and well drilled fashion. Kertész offers similarly well-pointed rhythms, but again he over-emphasises the stormy episodes to the point where the orchestra produces some rather ugly sound.
I really enjoyed Blomstedt’s Schubert. The tempi are well chosen, and maintained with just the right degree of flexibility, allowing the music to unfold without too much signposting. Apparently the Staatskapelle Dresden was Wagner’s favourite orchestra, and it acquits itself extremely well in this repertoire, with particularly fine wind playing. It has an attractive ripeness, particularly in the “wet” acoustic of the Lukaskirche, and the analogue recording gives an extra bloom.  

Guy Aron 

Excellent Schubert performances.