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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Coriolan Overture, op. 62 (1807) [8:42]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 35 in D major, K385 Haffner (1783) [20:25]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No.103 in E flat major, Drumroll (1795) [30:21]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 9 in C major, D944 Great (1826) [51:52]
Camerata Salzburg/Sandor Végh
rec. May 1993, Budapest Congress Centre (Mozart, Schubert) and March 1995, Academy of Music, Budapest (Beethoven, Haydn)

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 1 in D major, D82 (1811) [29:12]
Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, D125 (1812) [29:15]
Symphony No. 3 in D major, D200 (1814) [28:09]
Symphony No. 4 in C minor, D417 Tragic (1816) [34:16]
Camerata Salzburg/Sandor Végh
rec. May 1996, Cologne Philharmonie

Sandor Végh can be heard here over 4 CDs – two twofers – directing his Camerata Salzburg in Cologne and Budapest during the years 1993-96. The earliest performances are those in the Hungarian capital which distill the essence of two concerts into a truly memorable listening experience.

In the generous acoustic of Budapest’s Academy of Music, Coriolan is played with the kind of rich clarity that might seem, in anyone’s hands, a musical contradiction in terms but with Végh sounds sonorously and vividly convincing. The Mozart comes from a concert given in Budapest’s Congress Centre and whilst the recording quality does somewhat blunt the edges of Mozart’s Haffner it actually rather suits the conductor’s conception, as his sympathetically elegant phraseology proves to be consistently romantically heart-warming. Perceptive wind placement ensures no important lines go missing in the balance. The finale is strikingly done with the percussion making timely interjections in a dramatic close to the work. Haydn’s Symphony No.103 encourages Végh to draw rich deep coloration from his string forces, the chatty, witty winds being eagerly audible in the well-judged balance. The slow movement is deliberate, pointed and almost italicized at this speed, but nevertheless highly impressively sustained. The great erstwhile quartet leader ensures proportionate string weight across the choirs, good balance and requisite articulation. The wind descants, too, are aptly judged. With a rustic Menuetto, heavy-booted, Végh unleashes a captivatingly spirited finale.

Schubert’s Ninth Symphony occupies the second disc. This is a truly commanding reading, full of tonally rich playing, and architectural inevitability; indeed, the superstructure of the work is understood from within, as one would expect, with outstanding results. The end of the first movement is terrifically exciting, its galvanizing rhythm being irresistible. The slow movement is beautifully phrased, Végh cueing the horns with subtlety and direction, the Scherzo galvanizing, and the finale a summation of all the great qualities that made Végh so special a Schubertian. It caps a special twofer.

The other disc amplifies these qualities in performances given in Cologne in May 1996. The first four Schubert symphonies were performed as part of a cycle at the Philharmonie. The D minor is strongly hewn, spaciously conceived with its slow movement moulded with characteristic generosity but romantic seriousness. As ever the winds are well balanced, and the scherzo has sufficient rusticity to characterise ripely. The B flat major’s opening is dramatically projected, its slow movement’s gruff moments taken at a good walking pace, horns flaring when required. In the Third Symphony Végh brings out the playfulness of the wind writing, and fashions quite a spry (for him) Allegretto. The Tragic is vital and full of élan but also elegant precision. The beautifully calibrated dynamics in the slow movement attest to the care over terracing of sound – which is never finicky, or micro-managed – but leads to a noble unfolding of the melodic cantilever of the Andante.

Both sets have attractive booklet notes in gatefold sleeves.

Unlike in Budapest, where the audience was a little restive between movements there is very little shuffling in Cologne, though it’s possible it was edited out. In any case both discs offer complementary rewards. The early Schubert symphonies are for those wishing to focus on Végh’s conception of the composer while the Hungarian performances will appeal more to a generalist – or simply an admirer of outstanding direction from a great musician.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review (BMCCD201): Richard Kraus

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