Schubert: Symphony No. 9 in C (Great)

WORKS: Symphony No. 9 in C (Great)
PERFORMER: Bamberg SO/Jonathan Nott
CATALOGUE NO: 7144 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Notwithstanding the ‘No. 8’ labelling on the CD cover, there’s nothing remotely ‘Unfinished’ about Jonathan Nott’s new recording. With all repeat marks duly observed the ‘heavenly lengths’ savoured by Schumann are give their head – even in the Scherzo. The explanation is that the Neue Schubert Gesamtausgabe (whose cleaned-up score is showcased here) attaches ‘8’ to a work elsewhere cherished as a Ninth symphony to stand between those of Beethoven and Mahler.


Nott’s fastidiousness isn’t just confined to the score. He may lack the period forces of Norrington or Mackerras, or even the chamber orchestral compromise offered by Abbado, but he works hard to secure a hugely detailed, texturally alert reading – for all that it’s located in a late-19th century heavyweight orchestral tradition. The slow movement’s second subject has an almost seraphic Brucknerian sweetness to counterpoint some incisive truculence, and the Finale captures the energy and excitement Schubert must have experienced composing it (the Bambergers particularly relish the moment where Schubert seems waggishly to quote Beethoven’s Ode to Joy only to cross-dress it in Marche Militaire clothes). But the Scherzo is more ‘well fed’ than Vivace, and sometimes stern – the Vienna Phil for Gardiner aren’t so afraid to dance. The tempo changes both here and in the transition to the first movement Allegro tend to be effortful. And in his desire to serve the letter of Schubert’s score, Nott sometimes misses the spirit, particularly that pliant lyricism which so often pierces the darkest clouds. The inbuilt Viennese accent of the VPO and Gardiner’s more rounded vision afford a more persuasive prospect if you insist on large-scale forces, but Abbado and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe strike a happy medium. Paul Riley