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Friday, April 21, 2017

Franz Schubert - Symphonies Nos. 8 & 9 (Charles Mackerras)


Composer: Franz Schubert
  1. Symphony No. 9 in C major, D. 944, "The Great": I. Andante - Allegro ma non troppo
  2. Symphony No. 9 in C major, D. 944, "The Great": II. Andante con moto
  3. Symphony No. 9 in C major, D. 944, "The Great": III. Scherzo: Allegro vivace
  4. Symphony No. 9 in C major, D. 944, "The Great": IV. Finale: Allegro vivace
  5. Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759, "Unfinished": I. Allegro moderato
  6. Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759, "Unfinished": II. Andante con moto

Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Charles Mackerras, conductor
Date: 1998
Label: Telarc



Sir Charles’s ‘discovery’ of the autograph score’s alla breve marking for the Ninth Symphony’s introduction and his other textual concerns were printed in the booklet for his ten-year-old pioneering period-instrument recording with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (Virgin, 6/88 – nla), as again they are here. Thus, once more, we have a swift Andante introduction leading effortlessly into the ensuing Allegro (that is, at the same pulse; no traditional acceleration necessary). Sir Charles also went on to record the Unfinished Symphony (in Brian Newbould’s completion, Virgin, 9/92) with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. So, apart from the two symphonies now being on one disc (with most of the repeats), what, one might ask, is new?

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s instrumental make-up for these new recordings – period brass, modern everything else, and a smallish-sounding complement of strings with separated violin sections – allows all the textural yield of the OAE recordings, but Mackerras is now both a more faithful and more wilful interpreter; faithful, for example, in such matters as commanding a proper pianissimo in the Eighth’s famous first-movement second subject, wilful in an almost Mengelberg-like speeding towards the central crisis in the second movement of the Ninth. In short, here are all the nuances of tempo and dynamics in performances which, though hardly suggesting a switch to a ‘post-Wagnerian’ viewpoint, provide a great deal more than mere textual, textural and timbral interest: they engage on an expressive level. One might stand on the soap-box and claim the use of vibrato by strings and woodwinds is ‘inauthentic’, but there is no denying its effectiveness in so many places, not the least of them being the start of the first-movement development of the Eighth (the tremors of fear!). And, in any case, these days, most of us would seem to prefer a pragmatic rather than dogmatic application of ‘historical’ performance practice.

Ultimately, how these performances ‘add up’ in the company of distinguished alternatives past and present will still depend on whether you take to the specific nature of the instrumental sound (whether it is an effective carrier for what you want to hear from both symphonies). It is lightweight and small-scale, with the cutting edge of the period brass, although used more selectively than in the OAE recordings, remaining a powerful feature. And if the orchestra isn’t quite the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (under Abbado), general ensemble is very fine, and the quality of woodwind solos outstanding. Telarc’s recording naturally reproduces what is there.

-- John SteaneGramophone

More reviews:
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: ***** / SOUND: *****


Franz Schubert (31 January 1797 – 19 November 1828) was an Austrian composer who was extremely prolific during his short lifetime. His output consists of over six hundred secular vocal works (mainly Lieder), seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operas, incidental music and a large body of chamber and piano music. Today, Schubert is ranked among the greatest composers of the late Classical era and early Romantic era and is one of the most frequently performed composers of the early nineteenth century. His music is characterized by pleasing tunes while still has "a great wealth of technical finesse".


Charles Mackerras (17 November 1925 – 14 July 2010) was an Australian conductor. He was an authority on the operas of Janáček and Mozart, and the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. Mackerras was known for his broad repertoire, expertise in Czech music, and use of period performance practices with modern orchestras. Mackerras recorded three Mahler symphonies and all of the symphonies of Mozart, Brahms and Beethoven. His final recording was Suk's Asrael Symphony in 2007. His final public performance saw him conduct Così fan tutte at Glyndebourne in the summer of 2010.


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