Schubert: Symphonies Nos. 8 & 9
WORKS: Symphony No. 8 (Unfinished); Symphony No. 9 (Great)
PERFORMER: Swedish CO, Örebro/Thomas Dausgaard
CATALOGUE NO: BIS SACD-1656 (
Here’s an excitingly combative, and ultimately very plausible new look at Schubert. Of course it’s impossible to strip away the associations from either work; but Thomas Dausgaard somehow manages to approach the surviving two movements of Schubert’s B minor Symphony as though we didn’t all know that it remained ‘unfinished’ – to which, for musicological safety’s sake, we should add the word ‘probably’.
There is no hint of valediction, not a ghost of a composer ‘half in love with easeful death’. The first movement is nervous, febrile and driven – a real allegro moderato, for once – while the second, however beautiful in its sinuously lyrical way, ends expectantly, as though poised on the edge of something new. For once it was hard not to regret the absence of an energetic scherzo or finale – perhaps with the demonic momentum of the Death and the Maiden finale?
The Great C major takes the revisionist pace of the introductory Andante well in its stride, and then breaks out into a tremendously exhilarating Allegro ma non troppo. The muscularity, feverish intensity (especially in the Finale and second movement climax) and rhythmic articulation make for a riveting experience.
I wouldn’t have minded if Dausgaard had decided not to do absolutely every repeat, but it still held my attention throughout. In the end, the verdict may be that these are enormously stimulating, rather than profoundly stirring performances. Claudio Abbado and Chamber Orchestra of Europe offer a similarly fresh, informed view, yet with greater range of emotion and atmosphere. But Dausgaard’s is more than worth hearing. Stephen Johnson