Schubert Symphony No. 9 in C (The Great)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
BR Klassik 900169 60:22 mins
Composed in 1825-26 and usually catalogued in the UK as No. 9 (though numbered 8 on this CD, as is usual in Germany), Schubert’s so-called ‘Great C major’ was his expressed attempt to achieve a ‘Grand Symphony’ to measure up to his great hero Beethoven. Its forms are, in outline, more Classical in style than those of the incipiently Romantic ‘Unfinished’ Symphony of 1822: the opening movement and finale are both sonata forms; the slow movement a kind of developing rondo. Yet, in their unprecedented length, harmonic daring and innovatory orchestration they seem to open up a whole new symphonic space – a kind of proto-Bruckner space, though Bruckner himself was only just born in 1824.
What the 19th century found hard to accept, compared with the tightly integrated intensities of Beethoven, was the seeming repetitiousness with which Schubert filled out his great spans. Indeed, George Bernard Shaw asserted that ‘a more exasperatingly brainless composition was never put on paper’. Yet an excellence of this new live recording is the way Mariss Jansons and his Bavarian players subtly bring out the harmonic changes or enrichments of surrounding part-writing with which Schubert more often varies his recurrent long melodies. Jansons also resolves the old question of just how slow the introduction of the first movement should be by starting moderato and accelerating by stages into the main Allegro. For the rest, the Bavarian brass and woodwind are on glowing, translucent form, and the recorded sound is warm and vibrant. In all, a release to renew one’s admiration and love for this wonderful work.