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Schubert: Symphonies Nos 8 & 9 (Gewandhaus/Blomstedt)

Gewandhausorchester/Herbert Blomstedt (DG)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Schubert
Symphony No. 8, ‘Unfinished’; Symphony No. 9 in C, ‘The Great’
Gewandhausorchester/Herbert Blomstedt
DG 486 3045   87:02 mins (2-discs)

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These two discs hardly need reviewing: they contain perfect performances of two of the greatest symphonies ever written, recorded with extra directness and detail. Of course people are going to make a fuss about Herbert Blomstedt’s being 94, perhaps the oldest conductor of anything ever. What matters is that there is no respect in which these masterpieces could be more completely realised. What is sometimes called the Seventh, also known as the ‘Unfinished’, is treated in its intensity as something of which one wouldn’t want a bar more – it makes you wish there were more unfinished symphonies: the balance of the two movements seems ideal.

The Ninth, also known as the Seventh and Eighth, needs, in this unbelievably intense account, a readiness for coping with a deluge of sound which is unlike anything else in music. Blomstedt takes every last repeat, which means we are subjected to more than an hour of assault, with the rare restful passages leaving us unprepared for the next onslaught. If you want to listen to music which makes any other, including Mahler, seem sedate, head for this and wonder how often you can endure such an assault. Blomstedt secures playing of the utmost precision, any hint of a respite leaving the listener unready for the battering that follows.

He also contrives to convey the ultimate ambiguity of both these works, which can sometimes come across as menacing, and other times uplifting, as no other works I can think of do. I’d put these performances in a category of their own, with a health warning.

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Michael Tanner