Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 8 (9),
Dennis Russell Davies, cond; Basel SO
SINFONIEORCHESTER BASEL 3 (62:13) Live: Basel 6/3-5/2013
I can explain the odd entry above by pointing out that, when this Symphony was discovered several years after Schubert’s death, it was thought to be his Seventh Symphony. The discovery of two incomplete symphonies, a complete, but mostly unorchestrated sketch, D 729, which became the Symphony No. 7 in E and an orchestrated torso two movements long with
nine bars of a projected Scherzo which became the Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, aka the “Unfinished” Symphony, D 759. Otto Deutsch (the D in D 759) says that Mendelssohn, Sullivan, and Brahms all considered orchestrating the Seventh Symphony, but it was subsequently orchestrated by one J. F. Barnett and performed in 1883 and apparently forgotten. Later, the Symphony was orchestrated by Felix Weingartner and Brian Newbould. Both of their editions have been recorded and demonstrate that it is a very “Schubertian,” viable Symphony, but some musicologists with too much time on their hands have demoted it to fragmentary status, so now the “Unfinished” has become No. 7, and the Ninth, No. 8 … just what the world needed.
If one performs all the various repeats (six in all), the “Eighth” Symphony consumes at least an hour. With much of the music being repetitious to begin with, many conductors have found various ways of diminishing the piece’s “heavenly length,” to use Schumann’s phrase after he discovered it. Let’s face it—one can probably have no hope of hearing every recording, but I did manage to hear these within the past month: Abbado, Argenta, Barenboim, Beecham, Blomstedt, Furtwängler, Giulini/CSO, Kertesz, Krips/Concertgebouw, Krips/LSO, Levine, Maag, Slatkin, Stock, Vaughan, and Walter. The most popular option seems to be observing the first repeats in the Scherzo and Trio, while ignoring the rest; but Krips only observes one in the Scherzo, Kertesz one in
and Stock observes none at all. Levine omits the repeats in the outer movements but does all the ones in the third movement. Giulini does them all but skips the one in the last movement, as does Slatkin, an odd touch that throws the piece’s proportions somewhat out of whack. Abbado, Barenboim, and Davies do them all, including the ones in the outer movements. Schubert’s manuscripts sometimes include what appear to be large, decisive accents that some conductors have interpreted as diminuendos; hence, otherwise intelligent conductors like Argenta, Kubelík, and Solti have ended the Symphony by having the final chord fade out, not a convincing touch. Most conductors accelerate into the exposition, although all Schubert asks for is a gradual crescendo. Late in his career, Carlo Maria Giulini minimized the accelerando by taking the introduction at a faster tempo. It is also common practice to retard the tempo during the last bars of the first movement, although Schubert does not ask for any tempo adjustment there. I can sympathize with conductors who do this—it’s probably an irresistible temptation (though some conductors manage to resist it). Frederick Stock has the most interesting way of ending the movement: He does the expected slowdown but then snaps back into tempo for the last two bars. I think it works.
If I can infer from the CD number, this is the third release issued by the Basel Symphony Orchestra itself. I hope its predecessors were this good. My only reservation is that Dennis Russell Davies has chosen to observe all the repeats—the ones in the outer movements and the four in the Scherzo and Trio.
A moderately paced introduction accelerates into the exposition. The recording has been beautifully engineered—we get the sense of the large sonority, and yet the balance and detail are excellent. Every once in a while some hitherto obscure detail pokes through the sonority. It’s quite serendipitous. Who gets the credit? The producer or conductor? He slows down for the final measures but the effect, as presumably intended, is majestic. The
Andante con moto
movement is moderately paced, but propelled by rhythmic detail that gives it a jaunty spring. When needed, there’s ample power. The Scherzo is lively; the strings really bite into those opening figures. He broadens the tempo a bit for the Trio. The last movement is lively enough but never feels hard-driven. Odd: I can do without the repeats, yet two of my favorite Ninths, the Abbado and this one, observe them all.
FANFARE: James Miller
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 9 in C major, D 944 "Great" by Franz Schubert
Dennis Russell Davies
Basel Symphony Orchestra
Written: ?1825-28; Vienna, Austria
Venue: Stadt-Casino Basel Musiksaal
Length: 62 Minutes 11 Secs.
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