This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
An outstanding example of the programmer’s art. From the close of the choral song’s watery passage of the soul, the common key of C allows the symphony’s opening horn call then to ease us magically on to firmer ground for its own world of more confident journeying. Schubert might almost have intended it! An outstanding performance of the song, too; heard in the supremely evocative version for male voice and lower strings – many more of both here, I would say, than the 13 musicians for which, the booklet-notes tell us, Schubert scored it.
These days, it is more difficult for new recordings of the symphony to be ‘outstanding’. Those that have stood out over the last ten years, have (for the sake of convenience) fallen into two
categories. Old masters, like Giulini and Wand, revisiting a score barnacled by traditional speedings and slowings, and bringing their own lifetimes’ gained insights and affection to it (barnacles and all); and those who have thrown late-nineteenth- and twentieth-century traditions and instruments out of the window and started afresh, such as Norrington (EMI Reflexe, 4/90 – nla) and Mackerras. But the last few years have shown those categories to be far from mutually exclusive. So we have had Harnoncourt in concert and on record (his recording, like Gardiner’s, is live), and Norrington in a recent concert (with the LPO), using modern instruments, mostly maintaining the ‘historical’ manners – lively tempos, stinting on vibrato and legato, and generous with ‘bouncing’ accentuation and often radical inflexion of phrases – but occasionally incorporating the barnacles of tradition, for example, a broadening for the restatement of the horn theme at the end of the first movement.
And where is all this leading? Almost it would seem – full circle – to Gardiner, who, despite the generally lively tempos and light touch, is happy to embrace most of the barnacles (!). Obviously, you won’t find Gardiner, like Knappertsbusch (again, recorded live), making cuts and halving the tempo for the finale’s famous unison stamping Cs (which, in any case, is less of a barnacle than a massive holing below the water-line); but neither is there any incidence of Norrington’s and Harnoncourt’s ‘historical’ phrasing vocabulary; so, to take one example, the strongly rhythmic first idea of the first Allegro is delivered by the Vienna strings and trumpets at a consistent forte, rather than starting at a forte (or even a mezzo-forte) and then tapering off. And Gardiner, like Norrington in concert, and Wand and Giulini, ignores the finale’s repeat. There is one novelty (that is to say, I’m not aware of a precedent for it) in the second movement where the first violins’ grace-note in the second bar of the much-repeated suddenly loud marching idea on strings, appears more often than marked in the score (the first instance is the start of bar 31, at 1'02'').
Whether all this is how Gardiner feels the symphony should sound, or is born out of respect for a Viennese tradition, is hard to say. Whatever the case, in general, they play magnificently for him; the Vienna strings – with all the violins on the left – their familiar sweet-toned selves (showing little inhibition in their use of vibrato); and the special colours of their woodwinds’ voices are always heard where they should be (memorably rustic, rueful oboes in the second movement, and a joyous ‘singing out’ of the entire section in the Scherzo’s Trio). Only in the finale does an occasional coarsening of manner, and brief moments of less than perfect ensemble and articulation, give the impression of an orchestra unhappy with Gardiner’s demands, in contrast to the kind of effortless automatic drive that Harnoncourt elicits from his Amsterdam players (at a faster tempo); or the impeccable balances and masterfully graduated builds from wider extremes of ppp to fff of Norrington’s recent LPO concert. As for the recorded sound, DG manage a satisfying compromise between spaciousness and presence. And of an audience there is not the merest hint.
-- John Steane, Gramophone [12/1998]
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 9 in C major, D 944 "Great" by Franz Schubert
John Eliot Gardiner
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: ?1825-28; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 08/1997
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