ALBUM TITLE: Schubert
WORKS: Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Simon Rattle
CATALOGUE NO: 339 3822
It’s rare that a recording provokes such mixed feelings. This Schubert Nine is full of things I am so grateful for having heard. But along with the revelations go touches of articulation or tempo modification that sound contrived – applied to the music rather than discovered from within.
The good things first. The pace of the Andante con moto second movement is close to perfection: a touch of the forward-striding hiker but far from unbending. Similarly, the relationship between the two main tempos in the first movement seems well judged – close enough to relate, but not fanatically regularized, as in the pioneering but flawed Mackerras version (with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment on EMI). There are moments of a quite visionary loveliness: like the high-floating string polyphony in the Andante, or the tremolos near the central climax of the finale (reminders of how much Bruckner must have loved this symphony). Most of all, there’s an expressive richness that makes Mackerras or the much-praised Marriner recording seem fatally black-and-white in comparison. But against these have to be put the big, exaggerated slowing down for the cello tune that follows the second movement climax, the too generous rubato in the violin-cello melodic imitations towards the end of the Scherzo, or the numerous accents that are just too carefully placed.
But it’s hard to choose a thoroughly acceptable modern benchmark. Claudio Abbado on DG sounds more consistently natural, but I’ve never found his Schubert terribly engaging. There are questionable decisions in Wand’s second RCA version (also BPO), but who in recent years has matched his sense of adventure and devotion? For that alone I’d put Wand first. Stephen Johnson