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Schubert: The Symphonies / Maazel, Bavarian Radio

Schubert / Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen
Release Date: 04/30/2013 
Label:  Br Klassik   Catalog #: 900712   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Lorin Maazel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



SCHUBERT Complete Symphonies Lorin Maazel, cond; Bavarian RSO BR 900712 (3 CDs: 232:58) Live: Munich 3/2001


In Fanfare 36:5, colleague Steven Kruger reviewed a 1997 reissue of the complete Schubert symphonies by Jos van Immerseel leading the period instrument ensemble Anima Eterna Brugge. One infers from Kruger’s reaction—“The great string melodies in these performances sound as though they are being executed on banjos or boiled-egg slicers”—that his Read more copy of Immerseel’s set is likely to have found its way into the remaindered bin at some second-hand record shop if it was lucky enough not to have ended up in a nearby landfill. For those who have heard Immerseel’s Schubert—I haven’t—and who agree with Kruger’s assessment, I can be fairly confident in saying that this release of Maazel’s live 2001 Schubert cycle from Munich will come as a corrective, at least in terms of orchestral weight, which sounds as if the full forces of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra were brought to bear. Whether the corrective is a sought-after one or not is questionable.


In matters of interpretation—tempos, articulation, dynamics, and phrasing—it’s difficult to make generalizations, beyond noting that Maazel skips first-movement exposition repeats, which means that measures of music are lost where Schubert has written different first and second endings. No doubt it’s this, more than differences in tempo, that accounts for the over 14 minutes shorter playing time of Maazel’s set and the fact that Immerseel’s set requires a fourth disc.


Other than the skipped repeats, however—which may, in itself, put this cycle out of court for some buyers—Maazel can be quite unpredictable. The first movement Allegro vivace of the D-Major Symphony (No. 1), for example, sounds sluggish and phrased in a rather foursquare, characterless manner. Yet when it comes to the first movement Allegro vivace of the B?-Major Symphony (No. 2) in cut time, Maazel takes off faster than anyone I’ve ever heard. The players could teach the Boy Scouts a thing or two about how to ignite a fire by rubbing bows against strings.


Maazel is not the first conductor to whip up Schubert’s “Tragic” Symphony (No. 4) into a state of near hysteria, but that’s little excuse for turning the 19-year-old composer who wrote it into a flaming drama queen. Maazel goes a step further, making the music sound like the Dies irae from Verdi’s Requiem. It needs to be kept in mind that all of Schubert’s symphonies prior to the “Unfinished” are essentially student works; and even though they are not modestly orchestrated—the C-Minor Symphony actually calls for one more horn than Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony—and some of Schubert’s compositional techniques are quite sophisticated, performance practices of the time would almost certainly have dictated lighter bowing from the strings and softer tone from the winds and brass. Maazel comes down on the score like the hammer of Thor, delivering cadences as if they were thunderbolts. Of all the performances in the set, this is the one I find the least to my liking.


In contrast, Maazel’s reading of No. 5 is as tasteful, tactful, and graceful as can be, and the one symphony in which I most miss the repeat, given the charm of the music and the brevity of the exposition. Since I wasn’t in Munich for these live performances, I have no way of knowing if Maazel actually omitted the repeats or if they were very skillfully edited out to allow the set to fit onto three discs. I raise this question because it turns out that the “Unfinished” is the one exception to the no-repeats rule, the only symphony in which the repeat is taken. Incidentally, this is as good a place as any to mention that the set uses the new numbering for Schubert’s symphonies, so that the “Unfinished” is now No. 7 and the “Great” is No. 8.


I rather like Maazel’s “Unfinished.” He achieves clear rhythmic articulation in the strings at the outset, and shapes the swells nicely without exaggeration or indulging in any unwritten ritards. This is a straightforward, well-balanced reading of the score that is beautifully played with a feeling of sincere devotion by the Bavarian orchestra.


Then there’s No. 8, the “Great,” formerly No. 9 and before that, No. 7, a symphony in which I’m all too happy to have the first movement repeat skipped. Like Maazel’s “Unfinished,” the conductor’s “Great” is unproblematic. The transition from the opening Andante to the Allegro is adroitly handled, and the first movement proceeds at a pace that feels just about right.


My sense is that Maazel is more attentive to, and in tune with, the two last symphonies than he is with the six earlier ones, No. 5 being an exception. His performances of Nos. 1 through 4 and 6 strike me as being a bit perfunctory.


If you prefer modern instruments and you’re a completist, you should probably have Neville Marriner’s six-CD set which contains the extra fragments, reconstituted sketches, and Brian Newbould’s conjectural completion of a 10th Symphony, which now, I assume, would be called No. 9. That six-disc set, incidentally, can be had from ArkivMusic for $34.99, which is cheaper than this new three-disc set, selling for $37.99. But there are other very respectable sets to consider as well. I’ve long enjoyed two Schubert symphony cycles with the Dresden Staatskapelle, one with Herbert Blomstedt on Berlin Classics and the other with the late Colin Davis on RCA.


I must admit, however, that making comparisons for this review led to some unexpected revelations. I was predisposed to believe, for example, that the readings by Claudio Abbado and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe on Deutsche Grammophon would be lighter on their feet and exhibit a somewhat keener awareness of period practices, but that turned out not to be the case. They are perhaps a bit lighter in articulation, but Allegro s are generally on the slow side, and Abbado is inconsistent when it comes to observing repeats—he takes the shorter ones in the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, but not the longer ones in the First and Second.


The real surprise for me turned out to be an infrequently listened-to sleeper on my shelf that I would have expected to be the least informed by awareness of period practices and the most slanted towards a romantic point of view—the set on EMI by Riccardo Muti and the Vienna Philharmonic. It turns out that Muti is more up-tempo and more observant of repeats than any of the others cited. And here’s the really good news. If you’re flush with cash, you can still purchase the original boxed set on EMI at ArkivMusic for $39.99, or you can acquire the same set transferred to Brilliant Classics for $19.99, which makes it the least expensive of the above-named options and, in my opinion, one of the very best.


FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

1.
Symphony no 9 in C major, D 944 "Great" by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Lorin Maazel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: ?1825-28; Vienna, Austria 
2.
Symphony no 8 in B minor, D 759 "Unfinished" by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Lorin Maazel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1822; Vienna, Austria 
3.
Symphony no 6 in C major, D 589 "Little C Major" by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Lorin Maazel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1818; Vienna, Austria 
4.
Symphony no 5 in B flat major, D 485 by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Lorin Maazel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1816; Vienna, Austria 
5.
Symphony no 4 in C minor, D 417 "Tragic" by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Lorin Maazel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1816; Vienna, Austria 
6.
Symphony no 3 in D major, D 200 by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Lorin Maazel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1815; Vienna, Austria 
7.
Symphony no 2 in B flat major, D 125 by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Lorin Maazel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1814-1824; Vienna, Austria 
8.
Symphony no 1 in D major, D 82 by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Lorin Maazel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1813; Vienna, Austria 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Worth Every Cent October 9, 2013 By William Muthig (Milan, OH) See All My Reviews "This collection of symphonies by Schubert is an excellent purchase. The recordings are well-produced and the playing of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Lorin Maazel is top-notch. It was a pleasure to sit back and listen to these performances. The recordings are also remarkable in that they were made with live audiences. Listening to these recordings, one would not have thought they were live except between movements or until the applause broke out at the end of each work. Kudos to respectful listeners." Report Abuse
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