Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra and conducted by Christoph von Dohnányi

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LABELS: Signum
WORKS: Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Philharmonia Orchestra/Christoph von Dohnányi


Schubert’s Ninth Symphony (sometimes known as his Eighth or Seventh) is both an evident masterpiece and a puzzling work. At almost an hour it is larger than any but two of Beethoven’s symphonies, it is grand in its material and its magisterial development, and has one of the most original and successful of finales. Yet it eludes any attempt to characterise it by mood or emotion, and it seems to exist on a level beneath specific emotional states, so that the perky theme which opens the second movement can be transformed into a terrifying climax and then back again, and the overall impression is of sheer energy, with the last movement almost out of control.

Perhaps the greatest art exists on the border of chaos, thanks to its all-encompassing nature, making us feel that it has taken us to the limit of what we can bear or understand. The performances of this symphony which most impress are those which are unsettling for that reason, and rather to my surprise this is among them.

Christoph von Dohnányi has usually struck me as a restrained conductor, but this performance, from the Royal Festival Hall a year ago, goes for broke and succeeds, to the evident rapture of the audience. The Philharmonia is up to all Dohnányi’s and Schubert’s steep demands, and I was left with a feeling of exhausted exhilaration.

Michael Tanner


Listen to an excerpt from this recording.