Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Symphony No. 9
Philippe Herreweghe, cond; Royal Flemish P
PENTATONE 5186 372 (SACD: 57:49)
When I started collecting classical records in 1973, authenticity in Schubert performance had a different meaning than it does today. Authenticity still meant a symphonic
conductor’s fidelity to the written score. Its high priest remained Arturo Toscanini. Listening again to Toscanini’s much-praised 1941 Philadelphia recording of Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, one hears tempos that would not be unfamiliar in performances nowadays, and that certainly represent a break from the German Romantic school of conducting. One also hears a dynamic range and accents that are positively Wagnerian. Very un-Schubertian, too, is the ugliness of the orchestral sound. When the period-instrument movement began tackling Schubert’s Ninth around 1990, the whole aural aesthetic shifted. We learned that Schubert sounded beautiful without the bombardment of the modern symphony orchestra. My experience, however, with period-instrument performances of Schubert’s Ninth by Roger Norrington, Frans Brüggen, and Roy Goodman was a bit of a letdown—the sound of the instruments alone did not make up for the lack of insights one gained from Furtwängler, Böhm, and Knappertsbusch.
Now we are presented with a different beast, as epitomized in this new recording by Philippe Herreweghe and the Royal Flemish Philharmonic. The modern symphony orchestra, rather than admit defeat to the period-instrument movement, tries to assimilate it. Violins are divided from left to right. The strings play without vibrato. The thwack of the period timpani is introduced. Nevertheless, one finds a continuity with the traditions of the German Romantic school in the idea that it is the conductor’s role, regardless of the instruments used, to make Schubert speak to us. At this Herreweghe succeeds triumphantly. His most innovative stroke occurs in the opening
means walking. Herreweghe’s tempo positively saunters, and all the details of the music fall quite obviously into place. We see here that this
does not represent a break from the rhetoric of Schubert’s first six symphonies. The pure tone of the string ensemble also is both beautiful and natural.
The transition to the
of the first movement is majestic, even without the usual accelerando. Herreweghe takes the exposition repeat. He does not permit the brass to overshadow the winds and strings; they act instead as another choir. The return of the
’s theme in the coda—at a brisk tempo—sounds breathtaking. In the second movement,
once again means to walk, not to march as in some performances. Herreweghe’s tempos are flexible, especially in the B section. The wind choir creates a tonal halo, and the big cello tune has a woody feel without vibrato. Herreweghe gives the Scherzo a lovely rhythmic swing, truly
. Its tone color owes something to Weber’s
, premiered four years before Schubert composed the symphony. The trio still sings, even without doubling the flutes and oboes, as Karl Böhm does.
In the final movement, Herreweghe again takes the exposition repeat. His rhythmic touch is especially light-footed. The B section is very mellow, even a little sad, as is the thematically related quotation from Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” The A section returns with a slight feeling of compulsion. The coda then marks a return to serenity. Herreweghe observes the diminuendo on the final chord, which most conductors ignore. This seems wholly in keeping with his somewhat dark interpretation of the movement. The sound engineering of the CD layer, by members of the excellent Tritonus team, is superb: clear, full, transparent, and beautifully balanced. I was unable to hear the SACD layer. If you are in the market for a more traditional realization of Schubert’s Ninth in digital sound, I would recommend the CDs by Sir Georg Solti, Leonard Bernstein with the Concertgebouw, and Michael Halász. Herreweghe’s recording is a great one. It tells us as much about Schubert as any performance I know, instead of telling us about the conductor. It is everything a Schubert Ninth on modern instruments should be.
FANFARE: Dave Saemann
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 9 in C major, D 944 "Great" by Franz Schubert
Royal Flemish Philharmonic
Written: ?1825-28; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 7/2010
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, Antwerp, Belgium
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