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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 9 in C major, D 944 Great C major (1825/26) [62.11]
Sinfonieorchester Basel/Dennis Russell Davies
rec. live, 2013 Stadt-Casino Basel Musiksaal, Switzerland

Sinfonieorchester Basel under chief conductor Dennis Russell Davies continues its Schubert survey on its own label with the eternally popular Great C major. The cover of the release names the symphony as No. 8 which is from the Neue Schubert-Ausgabe (New Schubert Edition) complete catalogue of works.

I was interested to read the views of renowned Schubert authority Nikolaus Harnoncourt who firmly believes the ‘Great’ C Major Symphony is “a colossal edifice in which Schubert remakes the symphony … anyone who has experienced this masterpiece is no longer the same as before.” Schubert’s final symphony is a work he described in his personal letters as ‘a grand symphony’.

Clearly a labour of love, this winning reading combines glorious drama and deep compassion. Rendered with assurance the first movement underlines the distinct Beethovian/Wagnerian influence on the opening horn-calls. In the Andante I relished the encounter between the primarily pastoral quality of the fresh outdoors and the dramatic extremes. The dance melodies in the Scherzo are vivacious with the polished and spirited playing having ideal bite. Engagingly expressive in the bold and courageous Finale: Allegro Vivace Davies exercises judicious control as the movement flows purposefully towards its conclusion.

This Basel recording has to compete with a wealth of rivals. From my collection the single standout is conducted by Claudio Abbado with the Orchestra Mozart assembled at live concerts in 2011 at Bologna Auditorium Manzoni and Bolzano Auditorium, Italy. That captivating Deutsche Grammophon account has a wealth of orchestral detail and is quite beautifully played and recorded.

For those requiring sets of the complete Schubert symphonies the competition is still extremely tough, however, I can suggest four impressively recommendable sets. My first choice is conducted by Karl Böhm and the Berliner Philharmoniker recorded in 1963/71 in the exceptional acoustic of Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin. As a Schubert conductor Böhm has few peers. He conducts typically warm and polished performances for Deutsche Grammophon. Newly released is the marvellous set from the Berliner Philharmoniker under Nikolaus Harnoncourt recorded live in 2003-6 at the Philharmonie, Berlin on the orchestra’s own label. The meticulous Harnoncourt has made lengthy and serious study of Schubert’s own manuscripts removing the inauthentic revisions that have become part of the scores. From start to finish the well prepared orchestra plays magnificently with a sense of spontaneity that carries the listener along on an enthralling journey. There is an excellently played and recorded set conducted by István Kertész and the Wiener Philharmoniker recorded in 1963-71 at the Sofiensaal, Vienna on Decca. Rather under the radar but well worth investigating is the impressive 2013 release from Lorin Maazel with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. All the symphonies were recorded live by Maazel in 2001 at the Prinzregententheater, Munich and after well over a decade have finally been issued on a BR-Klassik set.

Recorded live in 2013 from Stadt-Casino Basel Musiksaal with the audience applause taken out the sound team excels supplying clear and well balanced sonics. Engaging the listener from start to finish in this wonderful Schubert symphony the Sinfonieorchester Basel under Dennis Russell Davies plays splendidly and provides expressive warmth and lots of orchestral detail.

Michael Cookson


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