WORKS: Schubert: Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Royal Flemish Phil/Philippe Herreweghe
CATALOGUE NO: PTC 5186 372 (hybrid CD/SACD)
This is a performance of the wide-open spaces: fresh, invigorating air; rhythms with a spring in their step; impressive vistas. Hearing this you wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Schubert finished the Symphony after a long Austrian walking holiday. What you don’t get so much is the other side of Schubert: the haunted, melancholic dreamer, acutely aware of the darker side of existence. The playing is lively, impassioned in places, with plenty of surging energy in the outer movements and Scherzo. But after Iván Fischer’s magnificent Great C major (Orchestral Choice, August 2011) it can seem a touch one-sided. Herreweghe opts even more strikingly for a brisk walking tempo in the Andante introduction, and it pays off, contrasting with the following Allegro.
Like Fischer he understands that driving the Finale at breakneck speed is not the best way to generate momentum, and he holds the attention despite his observing all the repeats. But Schubert’s attitude to repeats is a lot less painstaking than Beethoven’s, and there’s a strong case for omitting the long ones in the outer movements. I’m afraid I don’t buy the diminuendo on the final unison – surely it has to be a misreading? The sound is wonderful: atmospheric but always clear and beautifully balanced. But hearing it after Fischer is a reminder of how far ‘good’ can fall short of ‘outstanding’. Stephen Johnson