Schubert: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7; Symphony No. 8; Symphony No. 9

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7; Symphony No. 8; Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Dresden Staatskapelle/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 62673 2
This year’s Schubert bicentennial presents a singular opportunity to reassess the composer’s oeuvre. Thus, Colin Davis and the Dresden Staatskapelle here offer a fascinating portrayal of both the important influences and the striking originality in Schubert’s symphonies, exuberantly celebrating the composer’s outstanding musical genius.

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The Staatskapelle enhances Davis’s remarkably energetic, perceptive interpretations with brilliant orchestral clarity. Vibrant playing in the first three symphonies invigorates the fresh colours Schubert brought to the harmonic language of Classical predecessors such as Haydn and Mozart. Davis generates abounding vitality in the outer movements, phrases the slow movements with exquisite charm and revels in the minuets’ engaging blend of stylish elegance and rustic bonhomie. The recordings (made in the warm acoustic of Dresden’s Lukaskirche) are impeccable, providing aptly focused atmospheric settings. Contrast the Tragic Fourth Symphony – where Davis conjures Beethoven’s image with stirring muscularity and ominously dark moods – with the orchestra’s glowing radiance in the more intimately scored Fifth. Moreover, while the balance between winds and strings seems ideal throughout this survey, the Staatskapelle’s witty opposition of different instrumental groupings in the Sixth Symphony evokes the score’s Rossinian theatricality to particular effect.

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Majestic accounts of the last two symphonies provide the climax of the cycle. Deft dynamic handling in the Unfinished – whose whispered opening is magical – and masterly control of its emotional framework affirm this work’s satisfying completeness. Ultimately, though, it is Davis’s persuasive revelation of the heavenly aspect in the Great C major Symphony’s huge dimensions that leaves the deepest impression. Here, the broadly conceived psychological spans and exceptional organic integrity of his reading hail Schubert’s full maturity as a symphonic composer and thus as Beethoven’s true successor.