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Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C major – Work No. 95 in our collection

Franz Peter Schubert (31.01.1797 – 19.11.1828) was an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic eras. Despite his early death, arising from from typhus and syphilis, Schubert left behind a vast output of fine music. He wrote more than 600 songs (or lieder), more than a dozen string quartets and 21 piano sonatas; he completed seven symphonies, with many more left unfinished; he wrote operas, masses, piano trios and duets. Yet there was only one public performance of his music during his lifetime.

Franz Peter Schubert

His most important works include the Piano Quintet in A major, D667 ‘The Trout’ (see Work 6 in our collection), his last three Piano Sonatas Nos. 19 – 21, his two great song cycles Winterreise D911Die schöne Müllerin, D795 (see Work 62 in our collection), his String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D810 ‘Death and the Maiden’ (see Work 72 in our collection) and his two outstanding symphonies: the Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759 ‘Unfinished’ and the Symphony No. 9 in C major, D944 ‘The Great’.

Schubert would almost certainly be amazed to learn that he has come to be regarded as a great symphonist. His first two symphonies were written for his school orchestra, in which he played the violin and sang in the choir, and the next four for an amateur group assembled by the composer. All were intended to be heard once and then forgotten! However his last two symphonies have justifiably gained status as masterpieces of the symphonic repertoire.

The Symphony No. 9 in C major, D 944, known as the ‘Great’ is the final symphony completed by Franz Schubert. The Great is Unusually long for a symphony of its time, a typical performance of the work lasts just under an hour although it can be much shorter depending upon the tempo chosen and whether the repeat sections, indicated in the score, are observed or not. D 944 is often considered Schubert’s finest piece for orchestra, this symphony is certainly one of his most innovative pieces. The symphony is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in A and C, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in C, 2 trumpets in A and C, 3 trombones, timpani, and strings. Whilst Beethoven had used the trombone for effect in Schubert’s two final symphonies the trombones become essential members of the orchestra playing throughout the piece, and even receive important melodic roles.

In terms of recordings the listener is spoilt for choice. There is a truly electrify live account from Günter Wand and the Berliner Philharmoniker, a controversial account from Roger Norrington and the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra that splits opinion, a restrained, but revealing account from Jonathan Nott and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. Ultimately we find ourselves turning towards Claudio Abbado for whom Schubert remained one of his favourite composers throughout his life. There is a hugely enjoyable account that he recorded with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe but if we had to select one performance it would have to be Abbado’s ‘live performance’ with the Orchestra Mozart recorded in a series of concerts at the Auditorium Teatro Manzoni, Bologna in 2011.

View the other works in our collection.

Bavouzet provides interesting surprises in Mozart Piano Concertos

Mozart: Piano Concertos, Volume 4

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano), Manchester Camerata, Gábor Takács-Nagy (conductor)

We continue to be agreeably surprised by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in this fourth volume of Mozart piano concertos on Chandos. This release combines two of Mozart’s most popular, but contrasting, piano concertos; Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K467 ‘Elvira Madigan’ and Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466 and cleverly interspersed by the overture from Don Giovanni, K527. The programme is held together by the fact that the two concertos were were written within four weeks of each other and the overture shares the same key as the D minor concerto and a sense of Sturm und Drang.

As has been the case in earlier volumes of the cycle Bavouzet is extremely responsive to every nuance from the orchestra and his interchanges with the woodwind section provide a source of great delight. In my view this is one of the finest recent versions of the ‘Elvira Madigan’ concerto and deserves a place in any collection.This is followed by an orchestral interlude in the form of a truly vigorous and energetic rendition of the great overture to Don Giovanni. What prevents this volume from receiving a top rating is the comparatively disappointing performance of the D minor concerto.

Bavouzet is performing on a Yamaha grand and this balances well with the Manchester Camerata under Gábor Takács-Nagy; as can be appreciated from this outstandingly well recorded recital. There is a very interesting, concise article about the pieces, written by the pianist, in the accompanying booklet.

Obviously collectors of the series need not hesitate in adding this CD or download to their library. For others this release is worth the purchase price for the recording of the ‘Elvira Madigan’ concerto and the overture alone.

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Elgar’s Enigma Variations – Work No. 94 in our collection

Edward Elgar (02.061857 – 23.02.1934) was an English composer, whose best-known compositions are his orchestral works including the Enigma Variations, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, the concertos for violin and cello, and his two wonderful symphonies.

Elgar’s popular Enigma Variations, Op. 36 is based on the countermelody to an unheard theme, which Elgar said was a well-known tune he would not identify—hence the enigma. Repeated attempts to discover it have been unsuccessful. All but the last of the fourteen variations refer cryptically to friends of Elgar, the exception being his own musical self-portrait. This work, more than any other, led to Elgar’s recognition as a leading composer and it remains one of his most frequently performed compositions.

There are many fine recordings of this work not least one conducted by the composer himself with the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra in 1926. More recently we have gained great pleasure from the Hallé Orchestra under Sir Mark Elder (2002), the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis (2009) and most recently a 2016 Hyperion recording of BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Martyn Brabbins. However the version to which we turn most frequently is Sir Adrian Boult’s performance with the London Symphony Orchestra recorded in Kingsway Hall, London in August 1970.

View the other works in our collection.

Complete Beethoven Symphony cycle from Toscanini in excellent sound

TOSCANINI The Complete 1939 Beethoven Cycle (PABX023)

NBC Symphony Orchestra , Arturo Toscanini

This remarkable set of performances of Beethoven’s symphonies, together with some of Beethoven’s overtures and his Choral Fantasy, come from a series of six live broadcasts on NBC radio. In preparing this release Andrew Rose was able to access source recordings of unprecedented quality, taken from acetate discs recorded directly by NBC and almost certainly not played since. This, together with the use of the latest audio restoration technology, enables us to hear these performances, recorded when Toscanini was at his peak, with rock-solid pitch, superb tonal balance, and a clean, clear sound quality throughout.

This is not a cheap release, running to six CDs, but it is worth every penny and admirers of Toscanini should seek out this recording even if they have heard other releases of these broadcasts as these are so superior. Indeed anyone who enjoys the Beethoven symphonies and has the slightest interest in historic recordings should seek this out. This is a set that I shall return to with great frequency despite the number of complete cycles and individual recordings in my collection. Indispensable!

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Available as a download or on CD from Pristine Classical.