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Schubert: Complete Symphonies etc (L’Orfeo/Gaigg)

L’Orfeo Barockorchester/Michi Gaigg (CPO)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0
5552282_Schubert

Schubert
Complete Symphonies, plus fragments of symphonies, overtures and orchestral pieces
L’Orfeo Barockorchester/Michi Gaigg
CPO 555 228-2   277:25 mins (4 discs)

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How many symphonies did Schubert write? It’s a good question, as people say when they don’t know the answer. What used to be known as Symphony No. 9, the ‘Great’, is now 7 or 8 – in this set it’s No. 8, though still known as the ‘Great’. It occupies the last of these four discs, and lasts for 61 minutes, the longest performance of it I have ever heard. Don’t think that means that tempos are slow. It is also the most rapid traversal I’ve ever heard, but every single repeat is played.

The same applies to all the movements of the completed symphonies, but not, of course, to the several fragments and ‘overtures’, some of them as short as half a minute. Schubert was a great non-completer, and while some of these snatches are interesting, others seem brief to the point of pointlessness.

However, what concerned me more is this orchestra’s sound. It is heavily weighted in favour of winds, and even more emphatically against strings, so that the overall impression of the ‘Great’ C major is noisily dramatic, almost never lyrical. The one piece where this treatment works is in the ‘Unfinished’, which creates and maintains a spooky, unnerving quality. Otherwise, the earlier symphonies fare better than the later ones, and overall the performances strike me as even less expressive than historically informed performances normally do.

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Michael Tanner