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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 1 in D major, D82 (1813) [29:12]
Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, D125 (1815) [29:15]
Symphony No. 3 in D major, D200 (1815) [28:09]
Symphony No. 4 in C minor, D400 (1816) [34:16]
Camerata Salzburg/Sandor Végh
rec. 26-30 May 1996, Kölner Philharmonie

Here is an interesting release of Schubert’s first four symphonies, recorded two decades ago. The great Hungarian violinist and conductor, Sandor Végh, recorded these works with the Camerata Salzburg (then called the Camerata Academica of the Mozarteum Salzburg), but they were not released as CDs. Capriccio did issue the Végh/Camerata Symphonies 5, 6, 7, and 9, apparently recorded in 1995. To complete the set, and to promote the heritage of Végh, the Budapest Music Center has now issued these performances, made in Köln the year before Végh’s death in 1997.

Has it been worth the wait? Most certainly. These are lovingly performed versions of four appealing symphonies. Végh understands the singing line of Schubert’s early symphonies, but also that these works pack lots of excitement. My only hesitation concerns slow tempi for some movements. But what I call pokey, others may regard as spacious or leisurely. Végh keeps the momentum going, so his Schubert never seems sluggish. “Unhurried” may be a neutral way of describing the Allegretto of Symphony 2, or Symphony 4’s Andante.

These performances contain many moments of iridescent beauty. Végh also brings to the fore some details that I had never noticed in many years of listening to these works, especially wind passages that have been obscured by larger ensembles, or left behind in a blur by hastier performances by other chamber orchestras. The recordings are detailed and convey a sense of immediacy. They tilt a little to the bass, so you hear timpani and contrabass parts clearly.

Symphonies 1 and 2 are probably the most successful, although all give much pleasure. Symphony No. 3 is grander and less bucolic than usual, which is not necessarily a bad thing. No. 4 may be the most problematic; Végh’s disregard for Schubert’s Allegro vivace marking in the first movement results in a statelier performance than usual. The Andante is similarly deliberate, taking almost four minutes longer than the recent version by Thomas Dausgaard. But Végh makes up for this in a final Allegro of real exhilaration.

What to do with these symphonies by the teen-aged Schubert is a problem for which many solutions have been put forth, including the one-time expedient of ignoring them as juvenilia. They are lyric works which are also dramatic, and performers have struggled to find a satisfying balance between these two poles. Older big-band versions tried to find the inner Beethoven in these works, hyping up the drama, but marching or charging right through some beautiful passages where more modern versions linger a bit. In contrast, the HIP movement sought to revive early Schubert symphonies by scaling things back, allowing rediscovered wind sonorities to come forth, and generally stressing the poetic side of things. Végh provides something in between these poles, sounding at times like a careful chamber orchestra version of Beethoven’s first two symphonies. For a more recent and zippier chamber orchestra version of these works, listen to the BIS recordings by Thomas Dausgaard (review).

The notes to this two CD set are perhaps understandably about Sandor Végh, not Schubert.

Richard Kraus



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