Schubert: Symphony No. 9 in C (Great); Five German Dances
LABELS: Channel Classics
WORKS: Symphony No. 9 in C (Great); Five German Dances
PERFORMER: Budapest Festival Orchestra/ Iván Fischer
CATALOGUE NO: Channel CCS SA 31111 (hybrid CD/SACD)
As so often with Iván Fischer, it’s the breadth of insight that impresses here. He is by no means the first conductor to notice that the Symphony begins at a two-in-a-bar walking pace rather than the traditional slower four. He isn’t the first to ask the horns to use hand stopping in the opening theme (as they would have done in Schubert’s day), nor is the brisk rhythmic drive of so much of the music new. Likewise there have been other conductors who have kept in mind the fact that Schubert was also a great song composer.
What is unusual, and welcome, about this performance is the way it combines all those elements. The Andante con moto second movement powers on to its tragic climax impressively, but the cello’s lyrical response is almost vocal in its eloquent beauty. Similarly the outer movements and Scherzo have plenty of muscular energy, and yet the lines can sing too. If in the end it doesn’t quite have the pure exhilarating life force of the classic Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell recording of 1957, nor the latter’s sense of being sometimes poised on an emotional knife-edge, it does come closer than any other recent version I can remember – certainly close enough to earn five stars.
The recorded sound is likewise outstanding: warm and atmospheric but clear throughout the texture. The youthful German Dances are much lighter fare, but the playing is warmly engaging and occasionally – as in the coda of the fifth dance – you hear pre-echoes of the genius Schubert was soon to become. Stephen Johnson