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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Schubert (Un)Finished
Tränenregen [Die Schöne Müllerin D795 No. 10, orch. Webern) [4.55]
Der Wegweiser [Winterreise D911 No. 20, orch. Webern) [4.06]
Memnon [D541, orch. Brahms) [3.34]
Geheimes [D719, orch. Brahms) [1.30]
Ihr Bild [Schwanengesang D957 No. 9, orch. Webern) [2.30]
Grüppe aus dem Tartarus [D583, orch. Brahms) [2.48]
Du bist die Ruh [D776, orch. Webern) [4.05]
Symphony No. 7 in B Minor [D759, completed by Samale & Cohrs] [42:52]
Florian Boesch (Bass-baritone)
Concentus Musicus Wien/Stefan Gottfried
rec. 2018, Musikverein, Vienna
APARTÉ AP189 [76:00]

This is the first CD that Concentus Musicus Wien has recorded since the death of its founder, Nikolaus Harnoncourt. In his short but informative programme notes, the orchestra’s new conductor, Stefan Gottfried, makes clear that in this recording the ensemble sets sail for new Romantic shores.

The major work on this disc is a completed version of Schubert’s immortal ‘Unfinished’ Symphony. When Schubert started to write the work in 1822 the syphilis that would later kill him had its first major impact on his health. Many commentators have speculated that this gave rise to the darkness and pain that one encounters in the first two movements of the symphony. No-one knows why Schubert never completed the work. The reason may be connected with his illness and its effect on his psychological wellbeing; or he may have felt unable to come up with musical material of sufficient quality to complement the two completed movements; or he may have become distracted by other projects. So how does one complete some of the most extraordinary music ever written? Stefan Gottfried points out in the programme notes that there is an autograph draft of a complete third movement scherzo including a complete orchestration of its opening bars. Nicola Samale and Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs have fleshed out Schubert’s autograph and their completion forms the basis of this recording. Gottfried also argues that it is likely the first entr’acte from Schubert’s incidental music to Rosamunde, dating from the same period, was intended to serve as the symphony’s Finale (Charles Mackerras makes the same argument).

Everyone is if course most familiar with the first two movements of the Unfinished Symphony and there are some great performances of the work from artists such as Abbado, Wand and Kleiber. This recording from Stefan Gottfried and Concentus Musicus Wien shows an enormous depth of musical understanding and they acquit themselves well against stiff competition. The slow introduction to the first movement in the lower strings plumbs the Stygian depths and brings us face to face with the blackness of the void. The first subject with its rustling strings and haunting oboe solo catapults the listener into Schubert’s troubling world while the cellos bring a moment of serene lyricism in the G Major second subject. There are gut wrenching outbursts in the development section which enable us to feel the composer’s anguish first hand. The Andante con moto second movement contains all the elements of great Schubert playing. The dynamic contrasts are closely observed while the poignant wind solos are deeply affecting.

I have not heard any of the realisations of the scherzo which have hitherto been produced. I enjoyed listening to the music and it had a boisterous Beethovenian energy which was very appealing. Having said that, the music to my mind is not of the same quality as the previous two movements. I have never been convinced by the argument that the first entr’acte to Rosamunde was intended as the finale to the Unfinished Symphony. Gottfried and Concentus Musicus Wien give a committed performance but it still comes across as incidental music rather than as the finale to a symphony.

In addition to Schubert’s B Minor Symphony, Gottfried and his ensemble join forces with Florian Boesch in orchestrations of Schubert songs by Brahms and Webern. Boesch sings beautifully: his diction is excellent throughout and he combines a chamber music intimacy with moments of vocal power when his voice soars above the orchestral forces. Webern’s orchestrations are extraordinarily imaginative e.g. the use of low brass in Ihr Bild reinforce the elements of darkness and foreboding in the song while strings and woodwind provide a tender accompaniment in Du bist die Ruh. The orchestra, conductor and soloist prove to be very fine Schubert exponents combining supreme lyricism, an impressive dynamic range and sensitive handling of the composer’s gorgeous modulations.

The programme for this recording is highly innovative and much of the playing and singing is superb. I enjoyed listening to this completion of the Unfinished Symphony but, having done so, I am strongly of the view that it is better to leave the existing two movements as they are without adding complementary material.

Robert Beattie

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