Schubert: Symphony No.4; Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 8 (the Great C major)

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Symphony No.4; Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 8 (the Great C major)
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-91184-2 DDD
When Schubert’s symphonies were published in the first collected edition (1884/5) they appeared in versions heavily edited by Brahms. For the most part, it is these editions which have formed the basis of the recordings of these works.

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The present recording of Schubert’s symphonies from Harnoncourt and the Royal Concertgebouw, like Abbado’s 1988 issue for DG, is based on the autograph sources. However, there are clues that this recording also represents a striking departure from the conventional view of Schubert’s musical persona. In the booklet notes, Peter Härtling denies the notion

of Schubert the Romantic, and suggests that the symphonies represent a kind of musical novel which charts the composer’s rejection of Classicism for the ‘shadowlands between the Biedermeier period and a future age’. Therefore, though Brahms’s editorial interventions may have been justified in their day, they should now be discarded and Schubert’s symphonies should be played as they were written.

The principal difference between the manuscripts and the printed editions affect the symphonies numbered here as 4, 6 and 8 (the Great C major), where added bars have been removed and deleted bars restored. There are also numerous other emendations concerning dynamics and articulation which help to produce startlingly fresh accounts of these works. Harnoncourt’s journey through the earlier symphonies features strong dynamic characterisation and elegantly shaped phrasing to reveal the young Schubert’s attraction to music which dances.

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The Concertgebouw’s immense dynamic range in the Unfinished yields a performance of sustained concentration and intensity, to which the Great C major provides a compelling and triumphant conclusion. Thus, it is Harnoncourt’s ability to present such a clear overall view of Schubert’s symphonic output, through impeccable attention to internal detail, and orchestral playing of the highest quality which make these recordings worthy of the strongest recommendation. Nicholas Rast