The first thing one notices is that on this CD Schubert's Symphony No. 9 in C Major, D. 944, 'The Great', has been renumbered as No. 8. Presumably this is because Jonathan Nott and the Bamberg Symphony are using the score issued by the Neue Schubert Gesamtausgabe in that text's first recording. This strikes me as a silly but not fatal choice. We've been calling it the Ninth Symphony for more years than I can remember, and although it is true that the Seventh Symphony is missing (in spite of Brian Newbould's 'completion' of the Seventh), tradition should play a part here. Be that as it may, this is a marvelous performance. It is, I'm a bit abashed to say, the first recording I've ever heard by conductor Jonathan Nott. I intend to rectify that gap in my listening; I've already got the Taras Bulba, the Rite of Spring, and the Mahler First in my listening cue.
First, let me say that I'm really impressed with the Bamberg Symphony. For all that it's a provincial German orchestra, it has got the goods. It is given pretty good recorded sound, although frankly I don't hear much difference between the plain stereo and the SACD sound. I'm particularly impressed with the brass. And, as I think about it, the winds may be just a bit recessed, not a particularly bothersome thing in this recording.
What is the interpretation like? Well, it's not hell-bent-for-leather like Georg Solti's account with the Vienna Philharmonic. Nor is it the über-expressive Bernstein/Concertgebouw. It is, rather, a gemütlich, genial, comfortably-paced account. I particularly like that the Scherzo is not rushed -- it takes fifteen minutes -- and one can hear subsidiary material well. It's has an almost Brucknerian feel when done this way (but without Bruckner's awkwardness). The opening of the first movement, played gorgeously by two horns, suggests we're in for something special. And we are. Nott does not accelerate out of the opening Andante into the main section of the movement, as is so often done, but plunges headlong into the Allegro. It's as if the sun suddenly broke through the clouds. This makes the almost wintry opening of the second movement march more striking. The oboe solo in the second movement is piquant, seductive. I like that the endlessly repeated triplets that the poor violins have to play throughout the Finale are neither emphasized nor frantic-sounding. Yet the forward momentum of this exciting movement is not stinted.
All repeats are taken. Schubert knew what he was doing with these repeats and it is criminal (in my mind, at least) when they are not observed. Yes, the symphony lasts an hour, but what an hour!
I loved this recording. It will find its way onto my player repeatedly.