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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphonies Nos. 1-6, 8, 9
Mass No. 5 in A flat major, D 678
Mass No. 6 in E flat major, D 950
Alfonso und Estrella - 3 act opera, D 732 (concert performance)
Soloists:
Christian Elsner (tenor)
Bernarda Fink (mezzo)
Christian Gerhaher (baritone)
Jonas Kaufmann (tenor)
Hanno Müller-Brachmann (bass-baritone)
Luba Orgonášová (soprano)
Birgit Remmert (mezzo)
Dorothea Röschmann (soprano)
Jochen Schmeckenbecher (baritone)
Kurt Streit (tenor)
Rundfunkchor Berlin/Uwe Gronostay
Berliner Philharmoniker/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
rec. live 2003-04, 2005-06 Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany
Pure Audio Blu-ray Disc - Audio: All recordings in lossless studio master quality
Video interview with conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt in High Definition
Download Studio Master Audio Files
7-Day Digital Concert Hall Voucher
Exclusive Hardcover Edition
Full texts in Latin (Masses) and German libretto (Alfonso und Estrella) with English translations provided.
BERLINER PHILHARMONIKER RECORDINGS BPHR150061 [8 CDs + 1 BD-A: 613:30]

“Music, with Schubert at its heart, is my daily bread. Schubert has been my constant companion. For me, he was the personification of music.” Nikolaus Harnoncourt

One soon comes to realise that everything issued by Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings is worthy of considerable attention and I’ve been looking forward to this release for some time. Make no bones about it this Schubert Edition with the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt is high-end merchandise containing music and performances of an elevated artistic standard together with several desirable extras. What we have are all live recordings of Schubert’s complete Symphonies, the late Masses Nos 5 and 6 and a concert performance of the rarely heard opera Alfonso und Estrella.

In this exclusive hardcover edition box all the recordings (514 minutes of music) are presented on 8 audio CDs as well as a single Pure Audio Blu-ray disc in lossless studio master quality.

Also included are:
- an in-depth video interview with conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt titled ‘An Aura of the Inexplicable’ lasting 39 minutes in high definition picture quality.
- a personal download code for high resolution studio master audio files of the entire collection (24-bit/48 kHz).
- a 7-day voucher for the Digital Concert Hall (which is the Berliner Philharmoniker’s video streaming service).
- the 104 page integral booklet in German and English contains helpful information on each work together with fascinating and informative essays by Anselm Cybinski, Rudolf Watzel (formerly principal double bass player at the time of these recordings and orchestra chairman) and Otto Biba (Director of Archives, Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, Wien).

Considerable chunks of content found in the Anselm Cybinski essay is contained on the Harnoncourt video interview. Make no mistake with the dimensions 24.5 x 15.5 x 4.1cm this is a substantial box weighing in at 735g, although my digital scales showed it somewhat heavier at 791g. For the eight symphonies this Schubert Edition uses the Neue Schubert-Ausgabe numbering system favoured in Germany, however, I have used the more usual U.K. and American scheme which omits a symphony No. 7, the Symphony in B minor, D 759 ‘Unfinished’ is No. 8 (not No. 7) and Symphony in C major, D944 ‘Great’ is No. 9 (not No. 8).

Considerable chunks of content found in the Anselm Cybinski essay is contained on the Harnoncourt video interview. Make no mistake with the dimensions 24.5 x 15.5 x 4.1cm this is a substantial box weighing in at 735g, although my digital scales showed it somewhat heavier at 791g. For the eight symphonies this Schubert Edition uses the Neue Schubert-Ausgabe numbering system favoured in Germany, however, I have used the more usual U.K. and American scheme which omits a symphony No. 7, the Symphony in B minor, D 759 ‘Unfinished’ is No. 8 (not No. 7) and Symphony in C major, D944 ‘Great’ is No. 9 (not No. 8).

Berlin born and bred in Styria, Austria, Nikolaus Harnoncourt is a conductor particularly known for his historically-informed performances and in 1953 founded the period-instrument group Concentus Musicus Wien. A fervent Schubert devotee Harnoncourt said in 1997 “Schubert is the composer who is closest to my heart.” Not surprisingly since the 1980s Harnoncourt has conducted a number of Schubert cycles of the symphonies and the two great Masses. My first exposure to Harnoncourt conducting Schubert was in 2005 with his reissued live set of the complete Schubert symphonies with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra recorded in 1992 at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam coupled with the D major and C major Overtures in the Italian Style on Warner Classics. For an orchestra firmly rooted in the Austro/German, Classical/Romantic traditional it was slightly surprising for Rudolf Wetzal to explain that the orchestra with the exception of the ‘Unfinished’ and ‘Great C major’ had “played so little Schubert in the past.” It is certainly the case that the early Schubert symphonies are so often grievously overlooked as lesser examples of Schubert’s symphonic writing. Nevertheless the Berliner Philharmoniker has steadfastly championed Schubert in the recording studio with sets of the complete symphonies under Herbert von Karajan, Karl Böhm and Daniel Barenboim.

Sounded out as a possible guest conductor by orchestra management during Karajan’s time as chief conductor Harnoncourt first worked with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1991. He knows this famous Berlin orchestra well having performed 29 concert programmes in Berlin and Salzburg, giving over 90 concerts. Meticulous by nature, wherever possible Harnoncourt has made lengthy and serious study of Schubert’s own manuscripts removing the unauthentic revisions that have become part of the scores. In this Schubert Edition with the Berliner Philharmoniker recorded over three seasons between 2003 and 2006 Harnoncourt is using modern instruments but adopts certain aspects of the broad model of period informed practice that he believes comes closest both technically and stylistically to Schubert’s true intentions. Despite Harnoncourt’s extensive research there is nothing academic or stuffy here with these constantly enjoyable performances containing a fresh and spontaneous feel. When hearing these Schubert recordings it is not surprising that Harnoncourt concentrated his rehearsal sessions on “dynamics, phrasing, tone and tempi.”

Harnoncourt makes a persuasive return to what he considers to be Schubert’s own intentions in his scores. Throughout the set Harnoncourt directs magnificent playing from the Berliner Philharmoniker and displays an impressive sensitivity to the detail in the scores that allows the listener to appreciate nuance and tone colour together with a natural flow of unforced forward momentum. Praiseworthy is the degree of rhythmic metrical and dynamic detail he uncovers which is not always evident in other readings. Without overemphasising individual instruments Harnoncourt reveals plenty of detail and surprising points. I find these to be incisive performances that seem to extend the deeply imbedded bitter-sweet quality sensibly without being excessive. In the symphonies the stream of lyricism is paramount with Harnoncourt’s interpretations so often infused with Schubert’s innate Viennese character. The tempi changes can seem quicksilver with rhythms and accents crisply and cleanly articulated. Harnoncourt’s speeds can vary from the exceedingly brisk but never breathless or measured but without feeling laboured. Overall I find these perceptively conceived accounts from Harnoncourt enabled me to hear Schubert’s writing from a new perspective.

Of the earlier symphonies Symphony No. 1 in D major, D 82 from 1813 written by the sixteen year old prodigy is especially engagingly performed, infused with distinct Viennese dance elements that were inherent in the composer’s consciousness. Harnoncourt’s reading of the opening movement feels incisive and beguiles with its brilliance. I also relished the sweet and tender Andante which could easily depict a breathtaking scene on the Alpine foothills close to Schubert’s Vienna home. Composed three years later in 1816 the Symphony No. 4 in C minor, D 417 is sometimes titled the ‘Tragic’. Especially noticeable in the opening movement is the recurring intensifying then relaxing of tension that adds to the discernible tragic predilection. In the Andante the underlying melancholic rather introspective quality of the writing lays heavy in Harnoncourt’s reading. By contrast the final two movements are optimistic in character especially the invigorating and determined Finale with its imposing Coda almost regal in disposition.

With regard to the Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D 759 ‘Unfinished’ from 1822, Harnoncourt acknowledges the work was intended as a four movement score although he is convinced there must have been a point when Schubert decided the two completed movements were perfect on their own. Immediately in the first movement Allegro moderato Harnoncourt engages the listener with Schubert’s enchanting sound world in a reading that maintains an exceptional inner tension. Remarkable in the second movement Andante con moto is the bitter-sweet quality of dramatic expression and sheer beauty that Harnoncourt is able to imbue into the performance. Harnoncourt believes the Symphony No. 9 in C major, D 944 ‘Great C major’ composed in 1825/26 is a colossal edifice in which Schubert remakes the symphony. He states “anyone who has experienced this masterpiece is no longer the same as before.” This is a magnetic reading from Harnoncourt combing biting drama with deep sensitivity. Bold and confidently rendered in the first movement I don’t think I have ever before noticed the distinct Beethovenian/Wagnerian influence on the opening horn calls. In the slow movement it is easy to admire the invigorating encounter between the primarily pastoral quality of the march-like writing and the dramatic extremes. Relishing the dance melodies in the Scherzo Harnoncourt is spirited without ever feeling frantic and the bold and courageous Finale: Allegro Vivace concludes incisively with pulsating energy.

Of the two late masses contained here the Mass No. 6 in E flat major, D 950 from 1828 is in a class of its own for excellence and engagement with the Mass No. 5 in A flat major, D 678 containing relatively little opportunity for display from the four soloists. Harnoncourt views the Masses as containing “music of tremendous explosiveness and transcendental power… Schubert’s passionate effort to come to terms with death.” I am bowled over by Harnoncourt’s reading which contains a judicious balance of dramatic intensity and religious awe. At the heart of the score is the Credo with the two tenors Jonas Kaufmann and Christian Elsner singing together quite magnificently with the inclusion of soprano Dorothea Röschmann adding to the sense of sacred elation. Throughout the Philharmoniker and Rundfunkchor are in magnificent form providing sincere contributions to a performance that is a joy to behold.

One of the earliest example of a German Romantic opera Schubert wrote his three act opera Alfonso und Estrella in 1821/22 to a libretto by his friend Franz von Schober on which they collaborated closely together. This is an opera that has never established a place in the repertoire. Harnoncourt does not agree with the commonly expressed views that Alfonso und Estrella has wonderful music but a weak text and in general Schubert operas lack dramatic impact. In Harnoncourt’s view Alfonso und Estrella exhibited a new concept that was contrary to the Italian model so popular in Vienna at the time. The opera is set in mediaeval Spain around AD 790 in Oviedo the capital of the fictitious Kingdom of León ruled by King Mauregato. It is the tale of two Royal children Estrella the daughter of King Mauregato and Alfonso the son of the rightful King Froila of León. At the conclusion the throne of León is returned to King Froila and after successfully delivering the missing chain of Eurich, Alfonso successfully wins the hand of Estrella.

The assured Harnoncourt presides over a most engaging live concert performance of Alfonso und Estrella enhanced by the preparation and intelligent interplay between the excellent cast of solo voices and chorus. Christian Gerhaher one of the foremost baritones on the international stage today is in stunning voice as King Froila (marked as a bass part in the score but perfectly suitable in pitch for Gerhaher’s baritone). Displaying rapt feeling for the texts Gerhaher demonstrates his remarkably consistent baritone without any excessive vibrato and no annoying mannerisms. I admire the aching beauty and warm expression his gives to the arias ‘Der Jäger ruhte hingegossen’ and ‘Sei mir gegrüßt, o Sonne’. In fact only last month at the Semperopera Dresden I heard Gerhaher splendidly sing these very Schubert arias with the Staatskapelle Dresden under Christian Thielemann. Soprano Dorothea Röschmann excels in the part of Estrella, King Mauregato’s daughter. Her act 2 aria ‘Herrlich auf des Berges Höhen’ delightfully expresses the joy at being in love with her handsome stranger displaying her bright, girlish vocal to significant effect. As Mauregato, King of León baritone Jochen Schmeckenbecher performs his act 2 aria ‘Nur bewundert von dem Neide’ with real prowess convincingly portraying the King’s vulnerability especially his loneliness, sadness and fear of his enemies. Extremely comfortable in his role Schmeckenbecher is a fluid and smooth toned baritone who displays an excellent diction. Tenor Kurt Streit gives a convincing portrayal of Alfonso, King Froila’s son. I especially enjoyed his act 1 aria ‘Schon, wenn es beginnt zu tagen’ expressing his intense longing to leave the valley and how he is being drawn away. Under pressure Kurt Streit’s incisive voice seems to broaden and improve becoming less bright. In the aria his holding of the note (CD 7, track 6, point 3.00) is hugely impressive. Engaging in the bass part of Adolfo, Mauregato’s General is bass-baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann. Particularly well sung with fine diction is his act 1 aria ‘Doch im Getümmel der Schlacht’ as Adolfo expresses his love for Estrella and how she gave him the strength for victory in battle. Overall Müller-Brachmann’s voice is deep and dark, full of drama with the ability to leave the listener suitably disconcerted by its menace. Scrupulously well prepared under chorus master Uwe Gronostay the superbly disciplined Rundfunkchor Berlin excels, singing with consistency and engaging refinement.

In summary the sonics of these live performances from 2003/04, 2005/06 at the Philharmonie, Berlin are excellently recorded, clear with plenty of presence. With such excellent orchestral balance in the symphonies I feel the vocal soloists should have been placed further forward in the sound picture predominately in the two Masses and to a slightly lesser degree in Alfonso und Estrella. The accompanying notes are as comprehensive and as generally excellent as I have come to expect from this source. In the two late Masses and Alfonso und Estrella, baritone Christian Gerhaher is singing what are marked in the scores as bass parts that proved to be suitable for a bass-baritone and perfect in pitch for his voice. The same applies to bass-baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann and baritone Jochen Schmeckenbecher also singing bass parts as per the score that were appropriate for their voices. I am delighted to report that full Latin texts of the Masses and the German libretto of Alfonso und Estrella are provided with English translations and a synopsis. Unfortunately a video of the performance of Alfonso und Estrella wasn’t included but I suspect this 2005 concert could have been before the Berliner Philharmoniker began filming all its concerts. On the Blu-ray disc the 39 minute video footage of Nikolaus Harnoncourt focuses on the conductor sat in his St. Georgen home with the interviewer Anselm Cybinski not seen or heard.

Under Nikolaus Harnoncourt the Berliner Philharmoniker plays magnificently from start to finish with a sense of spontaneity that carries the listener along on an enthralling journey. Providing inspiration in every single note Harnoncourt makes a persuasive case for this treasurable Schubert Edition.

Michael Cookson

Full Content Details
CD 1 [79.33]
Symphony No. 1 in D major, D 82 (1813) [24.32]
Symphony No. 3 in D major, D 200 (1815) [24.55]
Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D 759 ‘Unfinished’ (1822) [29.58]
CD 2 [68.36]
Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, D 125 (1814/15) [35.25]
Symphony No. 4 in C minor, D 417 ‘Tragic’ (1816) [33.08]
CD 3 [66.32]
Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, D 485 (1816) [30.44]
Symphony No. 6 in C major, D 589 (1817/18) [35.39]
CD 4 [59.00]
Symphony No. 9 in C major, D 944 ‘Great C major’ (1825/26) [59.00]
CD 5 [50.17]
Mass No. 5 in A flat major, D 678 (1st version 1819/22, 2nd version with rev. 1825/26) [50.16]
Luba Orgonášová, soprano
Birgit Remmert, contralto
Kurt Streit, tenor
Christian Gerhaher, bass
Rundfunkchor Berlin
CD 6 [52.02]
Mass No. 6 in E flat major, D 950 (1828) [52.01]
Dorothea Röschmann, soprano
Bernarda Fink, contralto
Jonas Kaufmann, tenor
Christian Elsner, tenor
Christian Gerhaher, bass
Rundfunkchor Berlin
CD 7 [61.05]
Alfonso und Estrella D 732, opera in three acts (1823)
Act 1, Concert performance
CD 8 [76.25]
Alfonso und Estrella D 732, opera in three acts (1823)
Acts 2 & 3, Concert performance
Jochen Schmeckenbecher, bass (Mauregato, King of León)
Dorothea Röschmann, soprano (Estrella, Mauregato’s daughter)
Hanno Müller-Brachmann, bass (Adolfo, Mauregato’s General)
Christian Gerhaher, bass (Froila, exiled King of León)
Isabelle Vosskühler, soprano (a maiden)
Christoph Leonhardt, tenor (commander of Mauregato’s guard)
Kurt Streit, tenor (Alfonso, King Froila’s son)
René Vosskühler, tenor (a youth)
Rundfunkchor Berlin
Berliner Philharmoniker/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
rec. live, Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany:
Symphonies Nos 3 and 4: 22/25 October 2003
Symphonies No. 1 and Mass No. 6: 22/24 April 2004
Symphonies Nos 6 and 8: 2/3 December 2004
Symphonies No. 2 and Mass No. 5: 14/16 April 2005
Alfonso und Estrella: 8/9 October 2005
Symphonies Nos 5 and 9: 22/24 March 2006

Pure Audio Blu-ray Disc
Symphonies Nos 1-6, 8, 9
Mass No. 5 in A flat major, D 678
Mass No. 6 in E flat major, D 950
Alfonso und Estrella 3 act opera, D 732 (concert performance)
All recordings in lossless studio master quality - Pure Audio
[2.0 PCM Stereo 24-bit / 48 kHz]
[5.0 DTS-HD MA 24-bit / 48 kHz]
Running time 514 min
(Bonus video)
Titled ‘An Aura of the Inexplicable’ Nikolaus Harnoncourt in conversation with Anselm Cybinski - Running time 39 min
rec. 19 December 2014 St. Georgen, Austria
[Full HD 1080 / 60i - 16:9, Region Code: ABC (worldwide)]

Integral Booklet
104 pages - Essays in German/English
Full texts in Latin (Masses) and German libretto (Alfonso und Estrella) with English translations provided.

Download Code
Personal download code for high resolution studio master audio files of the entire collection (24-bit / 48 kHz)
 
Digital Concert Hall
7-day voucher for the Digital Concert Hall which is the Berliner Philharmoniker’s video streaming service.

 

 




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