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Schubert: The Symphonies / Harnoncourt, Royal Concertgebouw

Schubert / Harnoncourt / Royal Concertgebouw Orch
Release Date: 09/12/2005 
Label:  Warner Classics   Catalog #: 4623232   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Number of Discs: 4 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 4 Hours 40 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Schubert seems to be particularly well served in the CD catalogues at the moment and I for one am most happy with the extensive choice available across his broad range of genres. The Warner Classics label have re-released this four disc box set of recordings that were originally available at full-price on Teldec 4509-91184-2. The only difference from the acclaimed 1993 Teldec set that I am aware of is the inclusion of the two seldom heard D major and C major Overtures in the Italian Style, from 1817. Several of the original Teldec recordings have also been released on Warners’ Elatus and Apex labels.

I understand that Maestro Harnoncourt has studied Schubert’s own manuscripts and has removed many of the inauthentic amendments
Read more that have ended up in the printed editions. Readers may well be aware that musicologist Stefano Mollo undertook a similar exercise for Claudio Abbado on his complete set with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe on Deutsche Grammophon. Some of Harnoncourt’s corrections are consistent with Abbado’s, such as the deletion of the eight bars that were added to the first movement exposition of the Fourth Symphony. However, there is little consistency as Harnoncourt does not make the same corrections as Abbado to the andante and the scherzo of the Ninth Symphony. The otherwise excellent Warner booklet notes are rather unhelpful in this area, offering no information about the methodology or the actual corrections made.

Schubert’s early symphonies are soundly classical in form and not surprisingly they are highly influenced by Haydn and Mozart in form and style, scarcely foreshadowing the greatness that was to come. Schubert’s two symphonic masterworks, the Symphony No. 8 ‘Unfinished’ and the Symphony No. 9 ‘Great’ contain his unmistakable musical fingerprints; his wonderful lyricism; engaging personal charm and his special Viennese gemutlichkeit.

In the first three Symphonies: D major D82; B flat major D125 and D major D200, composed between 1811 to 1814, Harnoncourt superbly directs the Concertgebouw in performances faithful to the Viennese classical tradition. Maestro Harnoncourt never tries to plumb imaginary emotional depths; yet there is an innate sense of discovery from the first bar to the last. The slow movement’s rhythmic pulse is strongly emphasised and the tonal richness of the Concertgebouw strings is memorable. There is a touch too much weightiness given to the menuettos; an observation that has been levelled at other versions.

Between composing his Third and Fourth Symphonies Schubert became acquainted with Beethoven’s music. The Symphony No. 4 in C minor, D417 ‘Tragic’ from 1816 betrays the influence of Beethoven. The four-note rhythm that pervades virtually the whole of the score is not unlike the one that dominates the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The ‘tragic’ pretensions of Schubert’s Fourth, the only one in a minor key, are not cut from the heart-on-sleeve cloth of Tchaikovsky and the world-embracing epics of Mahler. It has been said that the ‘tragedy’ that Schubert was now infusing into some of his writing was an attempt to produce another ‘Eroica’. The subtitle of ‘Tragic’ it appears was appended by the composer to the some time after the work’s completion.

The popular second movement andante of the ‘Tragic’ is given an especially fine performance accentuating the buoyant melodies. In the finale Harnoncourt brings out the strikingly original harmonies of a true Romantic character.

The Symphony No. 5 in B flat major from 1816 is generally acknowledged as one of Schubert’s three most loved symphonies. Although the classical structure and style of Haydn and Mozart are present, neither could have composed the B flat major score owing to Schubert’s remarkable facility for individual expression.

The first and final movements of the B flat major Symphony are buoyant and light-hearted and here display appropriate measures of Haydnesque wit, Mozartian grace and lightness of touch. Harnoncourt is patient and controlled throughout the inordinately long and sentimental slow movement, with the Concertgebouw strings and woodwind in outstanding form. I would not wish to be without the beautiful performance from Karl Böhm and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on a Deutsche Grammophon ‘The Originals’ series 447 433-2, c/w Beethoven Symphony No.6 ‘Pastoral’.

Schubert’s Symphony No. 6 in C major, D589 dating from 1818 is sometimes known as the ‘Little’ C Major’ to distinguish it from the later, larger and greater C major Symphony No. 9. The ‘Little’ C Major’ score, which just predates his famous chamber masterwork the ‘Trout’ Quintet D667, is generally one of the least regarded of Schubert’s Symphonies. Musicologist David Ewen states that, “It is one of the least interesting of Schubert’s symphonies. Nor does fresh lyrical invention compensate for an overall monotony of style.” In this ‘Little’ C Major Symphony Schubert for the first time moves away from his usual third movement menuetto and clearly marks the movement a scherzo.

In the ‘Little’ C Major Symphony the excellent woodwind section of the Concertgebouw have significant roles, especially in the opening movement and are to be congratulated for their pleasing mellow tone. There is particularly fine playing in the fleetness of the third movement scherzo in which mainly energetic material is interspersed with contrasting episodes of calm and sobriety in the trio. The interpretation of the sober finale is most successful, superbly moulding both the capricious first subject and the second subject which is presented in a perpetual-motion style. Harnoncourt and his players crank-up an impressive head of steam to the score’s conclusion.

Schubert’s orchestral masterwork the ‘Unfinished’ Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759 remains one of the most perennial mysteries of classical music. Intended as a gift to the Graz Music Society to show his gratitude for his honorary diploma, no one knows for certain why Schubert failed to complete the Symphony leaving only two sublime and almost perfect movements and a nine measures of an intended scherzo.

The work is a moderately paced symphony in triple-time and there is often a temptation by conductors to lose control and flex their muscles inappropriately. In this case Harnoncourt provides an impressively poignant mood throughout and Schubert’s ravishingly beautiful themes are performed with considerable affection. The interpretation ensures the impact of the dramatic climaxes and the effect of the dynamic contrasts. The Concertgebouw woodwind do their level best with their rich and velvety tone to demonstrate the accuracy of Julius Harrison’s belief that Schubert’s woodwind writing in the ‘Unfinished’ Symphony was, “sheer inspiration”. This is a superbly performed account with most attractive, highly stylish and restrained playing.

Harnoncourt, with impressive bite and energy maintains a seemingly unstoppable forward momentum in the vast opening movement; the longest Schubert ever wrote in a symphony. The second movement andante is described by musicologist Brian Newbould as a, “not-very-slow slow movement (like that of Beethoven’s seventh)”. The extremes of lyricism and dynamism are expressively and compellingly interpreted and in the vast scherzo there is tremendous weight and considerable vigour. Unlike many readings Harnoncourt refuses to take the stupendous climax at a tremendous speed preferring to concentrate on maintaining a controlled intensity and tension.

On this critically acclaimed set Harnoncourt directs wonderful playing from the Concertgebouw and displays impressive sensitivity allowing the listener to appreciate nuance and detail.

The Teldec engineers for Warner Classics have provided a wonderful sound quality throughout and musicologist Brian Newbould’s scholarly essay is outstanding. A highly recommendable set.

– MusicWeb International (Michael Cookson) Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Symphony no 1 in D major, D 82 by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1813; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 27 Minutes 5 Secs. 
2.
Symphony no 4 in C minor, D 417 "Tragic" by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1816; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 30 Minutes 33 Secs. 
3.
Overture in D major, D 590 "In the Italian style" by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1817; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 8 Minutes 16 Secs. 
4.
Overture in C major, D 591/Op. 170 "In the Italian Style" by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1817; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 7 Minutes 58 Secs. 
5.
Symphony no 2 in B flat major, D 125 by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1814-1824; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 33 Minutes 17 Secs. 
6.
Symphony no 6 in C major, D 589 "Little C Major" by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1818; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 34 Minutes 18 Secs. 
7.
Symphony no 3 in D major, D 200 by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1815; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 23 Minutes 44 Secs. 
8.
Symphony no 5 in B flat major, D 485 by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1816; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 26 Minutes 8 Secs. 
9.
Symphony no 8 in B minor, D 759 "Unfinished" by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1822; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 26 Minutes 24 Secs. 
10.
Symphony no 9 in C major, D 944 "Great" by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: ?1825-28; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 57 Minutes 38 Secs. 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Harnoncourt beats Schubert in Symphony #1 August 5, 2012 By Jim N. See All My Reviews "It is rare you can turn on the radio and hear a complete symphony piece from beat one to last. Having the chance to hear the work of a most excellent composer, by ANY conductor and orchestra is otherwise the norm. Having the treat of a free broadcast on KDFC of an early orchestra work of Schubert, conducted by one of the preeminent Early Music Performance Practice scholars and interpreters apply his tact and approach to an otherwise, Modern orchestra will be a feat no matter the outcome: the struggle is imminent and the outcome the tell-tale expression of that struggle. Enough time has now passed where an Early Music specialist has had the, unfortunately, unique opportunity to shed light on works otherwise interpreted in "traditional" ways, that you would expect to hear about many more Early Music groups and specialists performing as pervasive as the Modern instrumentalist. Yet, Early Music and Contemporary Music are still fighting the undertow of 400 years of tradition: both, musically and professionally. I have been enjoying Harnoncourt's interpretations for 30 years. While I consider him to be a more conservative interpreter, as compared with McGegan – yet, more lively than other of their colleagues, one might consider the outcome produced by a Modern orchestra the most realistic example of the State of Music Interpretation than an orchestra where all players are trained in the same Early Music performance practice techniques and are fluid in their approach. As conductors go, Harnoncourt reminds me of an Early Music version of Pierre Boulez as Contemporary – and Modern – conductor: the facts are black on white or beige; the interpretative options are all on the table; the journey working together to produce a consummated compromise among esteemed peers who are professional and capable of playing anything put in front of them is preferred to any superficial justification for the inevitable outcome." Report Abuse
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