Schubert: Symphonies Nos. 1-6, 8 & 9
|1. Adagio; Allegro Vivace|
|4. Allegro Vivace|
|5. Adagio Maestoso; Allegro Con Brio|
See all 10 tracks on this disc
|1. Largo; Allegro Vivace|
|3. Menuetto: Allegro Vivace; Trio|
|4. Presto Vivace|
|5. Adagio Molto; Allegro Vivace|
See all 8 tracks on this disc
|2. Andante Con Moto|
|3. Menuetto: Allegro Molto|
|4. Allegro Vivace|
|5. Adagio; Allegretto|
See all 8 tracks on this disc
|1. Andante; Allegro Ma Non Troppo|
|2. Andante Con Moto|
|3. Scherzo: Allegro Vivace; Trio|
|4. Finale: Allegro Vivace|
Sir Colin Davis is a serious conductor, and he has Germany's finest orchestra playing music that they do better than virtually anyone else. From a purely technical point of view, these are fine renderings. But you can also get this same orchestra at mid or budget price, in this same music, in far less grim performances led by Blomstedt (Berlin Classics) or Sawallisch (Philips). So why spend the money if you don't have to? --David Hurwitz --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
I think Davis’ account of the first 4 symphonies are really fantastic. These are extremely well played, alert, and stylish. Most importantly, they don’t lose the youthful Schubert, trying to make him sound more than what he was at that moment. Tempi are brisk, as they generally are through out the set, and the strings have a resilient lightness that suites the music perfectly. These are stronger performances than Marriner’s, and have more personality, and aren’t as heavy (in the strings particularly) as Bohm’s. The best part about this Davis set is that I will be turning to the early Schubert more frequently now.
Symphonies 5, 6, 8, and 9 are extremely well done, but here Davis enters into a more competitive field, and it takes more to impress. As I said at the beginning, all of these performances are really enjoyable, but Davis’ performances of the more popular Schubert symphonies really didn’t add any new insights for me. Who can forget Beecham’s recordings, or those of Sinopoli and Guilini. Bohm, too, led an outstanding version of the 8th and 9th with the Berlin Philharmonic. There are many great recordings of the “Great C major”, in fact, but this just isn’t one of them. The Furtwangler, Szell (first one), and Solti recordings are my favorites, but this one by Davis just doesn’t have the intensity or depth that some others do.Read more ›
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But his music is not aimed to narrate or describe "predefined" sentiments. The music of Schubert is a narration of living moods in their continuous and unforeseeable changing and melting into each other. Surely some constant theme unifies his artistic production - the wanderer, the Sehnsucht, spontaneous joy, hopeful waiting and bitter disillusion, the loss ("Erlkönig"), the exclusion, the bitter irony ("Krähe, laß mich endlich seh'n, / Treue bis zum Grabe!"), an idealized Mediterranean zest for life, etc. - but in each composition they are continuously and differently mixed and linked together through changing nuances.
Consequently, and here lies the difficulty pointed out by Arrau, in each composition, as in each single part of it, also when a mood seems stated, at least for a while, in its depth you will find something, less or more, maybe only for a nuance, different, caused by a sudden reminiscence or by an unpredictable association of ideas. Schubert lets his different personalities to freely express their various feelings caused by the situation. Which has to be the prevailing one is not decided by a commanding ego, but, simply, it occurs and the temporarily predominant mood can not completely overshadow the others. Therefore, the interpretative problem is to deeply understand - in particular where there are no lyrics to suggest a main pattern - at every step, at every turning point: «What was he thinking to? Which were his actual feelings?».
In Schubert, the main technical tool used to achieve the musical expression of complex moods is not based on harmony, but on streams of marvelous melodies, interweaving, contrasting or singing together. But, to make all that even more difficult, the single melody is allowed to express, if handled and dug out by a fine interpreter, complex moods.
Therefore, in my opinion, the problem is not if the last symphonies are superior or greater than the earlier ones. In any case the interesting thing is that each of them narrates something about the moods of those moments or of those ages.
The first symphonies narrate of the fresh attitude of an enthusiastic, not yet disenchanted, genial teenager - obviously mature beyond his years -, attempting to apply his natural talent to express something comparable with Haydn's, Mozart's or Beethoven's (the beloved and most admired of all) heights; finally, in the last symphonies, we meet the achieved consciousness to be able to create something strongly innovative.
But this is only the general surface of the matter. Inside each work, we can find the same imprinting: a sincere narration of changing moods, from adolescence to maturity. Surely, during the "Reise", soul pain will soon become a main leitmotiv, but joined to the suggestion to plentifully live the rare moments of joy, at least till next disillusion or loss.
Indeed the deepest message is of respect and admiration for the beauty, the unicity, the miracle of human high feelings. Schubert would not exchange neither his rare joyfulness nor his constant painfulness, both generated by his extreme and noble sensitiveness, with all the well-being coming from superficiality or acceptation of conventional feelings and attitudes.
Moral pain and sincere and spontaneous joyfulness are what gives dignity and nobleness to human beings. As a matter of fact, Schubert's music is able to be highly consolatory ("One glance at Schubert's trio and the troubles of our human experiences disappear and all the world is fresh and bright again" - R. Schumann).
To have all the symphonies in an unitary collection allows us to listen to them like to a sort of cycle of complex instrumental lieder, where the linking theme is the wanderer's spiritual life of the Author himself.
Within the limits of every simplification, Mozart proposes an harmonious cosmic construction; Haydn proposes to interpret the world through the lens of intelligent fantasy, smiling and indulgent irony, joyful industriousness and sincere faith; Beethoven proposes a world of human brotherhood. Each of them tries for a rational answer to the challenging questions arising from the contradictions of human condition.
Schubert simply tells us about the man. A man, who terribly suffers from his loneliness, hiding in his heart an Utopian social project, while actual socialization implies unacceptable compromises with the insensitiveness or the evilness of the others. As the distorted and partial interpretation of the Enlightenment brought the eighteen century towards the Reign of Terror and to the Napoleonic wars, the distortion of Romantic ideals brought the nineteenth century to incarnates them in the concept of Nation and then in a degraded concept of State, which individuals are subjected to and not viceversa. There, Schubert could not be other than a rootless wanderer, allowed to be sung in the local inns or to induce little tears to drop from the "romantic" eyes of some pale dame sighing in a salon during Schubertiades, but excluded from participating to the weaving of the social fabric, as his wanderer is not admitted to the bridal chamber of the schöne Müllerin. Schubert's peaceful message had to wait for the carnage of WWI, for, among the others, Remarque, for the horrors and massacres of civilians of WWII to be given credit and to be permanently welcomed amongst universally shared values.
In conclusion, Schubert asks for versatility, sincere sensitiveness, spontaneity, extreme artistry and musicality, intellectual maturity. Colin Davis, in 1996 aged 69, is exactly the right man and the wonderful Staatskapelle Dresden, with its astonishingly colorful sonorities, vividly supports him during the "Reise", giving us a top level collection with a gorgeous sound, where the coherency and unitarity of the vision is masterfully joined to the superb interpretations of every single symphony.
The Ninth too may be rated as one of the best ever recorded. Here Davis does not incur in the frequent error of weighting it down to gain "profundity" or to fasten tempos to easily gain superficial "brilliancy". The typical heavenly lightness of Schubert's melody-based harmonic structure is attentively preserved, every rhetorical temptation cleverly avoided.
The result is a sincere and moving narration of the whole sentimental life of Schubert himself, the good and sensitive excluded man, and, by doing so, his peaceful and consolatory message springs out simply and naturally, without the superimposition of any intellectualistic or rhetorical artifice, exactly as the Melody Master deserves.
The packaging of the 4 CDs in single envelopes in a cardboard box and the symphonies allocation to them (1-3-8) (2-4) (5-6) (9) are more than adequate for a low-priced edition. The booklet supplies basic, but not shallow information, in English, German and French.
the Beethoven quite mixed. Best are #s 4, 6, and 8-all five star performances. The others lack the last degree
of fire and momentum. The Mozart and Schubert sets contain more of both qualities. The Mozart is the most inspired,
with vigorous tempi plus sufficient power and beauty-his best Mozart. The Schubert surpasses the Beethoven without
quite matching the Mozart. Davis observes most repeats, e.g. 67 minutes for #s 2 and 4 and 60 minutes for #9. Tempi
are close to flawless. While too many conductors rush the outer movements of #5, Davis is quick but unrushed though
close to the cusp in # 5/1. #s 1-6 ery fine with excellent winds in all six. I would like a bit more energy in
#s 1 and 4 (Marriner's best by the way-his #4 is shockingly persuasive). Davis #s 8 and 9 are quite good without matching
my favorites below, and with Schubert no single cycle will suffice. If one must own one, I would at least audition the
Davis, Sawallisch/Dresden and Abbado/COE.
Among non sets, the following be heard:
#4 and 8: Jochum/RCOA/Philips
# 5 and 9: Jochum/BRSO/DG
#s 2 and 8: Steinberg/Pittsurgh/EMI
#3 and 5: Bohm/BPO/DG
#s 3 and 9: Kubelik/BRSO/Audite
#s 8 and 9- Szell/Sony
#s 3 and 8-Carlos Kleiber/VPO/DG
#s 1 and 4-Marriner/ASMF/Philips
#s 3,6, and 8-Van Beinum/RCOA/Philips
#9 -Erich Kleiber/Cologne
#s 1-3 and 6-Abbado/COE
#s 2 and 9- Munch/RCA/BSO
#9 Krips/RCOA/Philips (not his LSO version
This RCA box is large enough to accommodate several other discs/booklets - to it I have added Kurt Masur's Rosemunde (a perfect complement, with the incomparable Elly Ameling) Rosamunde Complete and, for those times when I am feeling more adventurous, the four Teldec discs containing Harnoncourts incomparably exciting recordings of the symphonies Schubert: The Symphonies. Harnoncourt's set is truly a 5 star version; along with Davis, these two sets are the alpha - omega of Schubert interpretation. I do not hear one as being "better" than the other. The oversized booklet from the Harnoncourt set does not, alas, fit in the box but on the shelf in between this box within a box (sort of like a set of Russian "CD matryoshkas", or nesting dolls, now that I think of it...). On the other side of the booklet? Why Abbado's set of course - Franz Schubert: 8 Symphonies and Rosamunde/Grand Duo The orchestrated Grand Duo demands to be heard - even if it goes on a bit, and is not at all the missing 7th symphony!
Whichever set I play, depends on my listening needs or mood - today is a cold, rainy, June day in New England. A comfort food type of day - it made the choice easy - I listened to the warm lyricism of Colin Davis, and allowed the musical comfort of Schubert's vision lift my spirit. This set, frequently available in a less expensive, less collectible version Complete Symphonies Listening to Davis' 9th right now, I find myself thinking of Charles Darwin, who said "there is grandeur in this view of life". There is grandeur too, in this view of Schubert. If it is traditional readings you want, I do not think you will be disappointed by this wonderful set.
Some may fault me and say that this is not a classic/exemplary set denoted by a 5-star rating, but I'm afraid that 3-stars does it an injustice. Check out other enthusiastic reviews at [...]
Let me put it this way: If I audition a work and read the score, I can be annoyed and distracted by traffic noises, dogs barking and children screaming if they impinge on my hearing, and it is no different with all the extraneous noises that a live performance may enshrine. So my purpose is defeated. It is a different matter if I wish to be an indirect witness at a unique occasion, an opera performance which I have to miss out and can view or hear in my home, when indeed I would fully expect to put with anything for that period of time.
Exceptio probat regulam!
It can happen that a performance captured in a live session is free of all these chances and disturbances. Call it lucky, if you will, but such recordings exist. The album under review is one such. Moreover it competes head on with another recording of the same forces made in the studio, and it comes off the better.
Schubert No. 9 (or 7 or 8, depending on which momentary academic fashion is in force) was recorded by Davis in the context of a complete Schubert issue. It has several defects: (1) The sounds is boxy and dull, painting an overall grey over the sounds made by this otherwise magnificent orchestra. (2) Davis plays all the repeats in every movement. For a studio reading, this is idiotic, since it makes all the movements much longer than their natural content would warrant, without adding anything other than the same music again. (3) The performance is routine all the way through, Davis having one of his most uninspired days. All 3 points conduce to an unutterably boring account, saved only by the splendid playing of the orchestra.
Another time, Hänssler's engineers were on hand to open the mikes during a live performance. On that day, Davis produced something entirely different. He was alive and alert, judged tempi judiciously and (I suspect) played to the audience instead of the microphones. Moreover he cut the repeats down and suddenly the whole architecture of the work makes sense. Events played out inside of the work acquire deeper meaning because climaxes are not repeated, but make their point in the unfolding of the drama once and for all (mvmts 1, 2, 4), melodies are not trundled along mindlessly a dozen times (mvmts 3, 4), and most importantly the vivacity of most of mvmts 1 and 4 is not sacrificed to academic criteria, but to a situation of living music making.
Even the sound is an improvement on the studio recording.
The question remains in the end where to place these recordings.But I think I have answered that question implicitly. The studio recording might be located in an arbitrary place near all the other indifferently conceived, but well played recordings - e.g. in the vicinity of Muti, Karajan, Ormandy, Steinberg (Boston) et al. The live recording moves up a considerable number of slots. It is not top class, as defined by the classic recordings of Krips, Böhm and Wand (Berlin), but in the company of otherwise excellent issues such as Blomstedt (Dresden), Bernstein (Concertgebouw), Giulini (Chicago), Tennstedt and Solti. An honourable place, even if the last ounce of conviction is lacking.
(PS The album you are contemplating at the moment is the studio recording).
All these readings are well played and recorded, and there are flashes of spirited interpretation, such as the opening movement of Sym. #3, which is forceful but without the toughness and edge that Carlos Kleiber brought to it. In general the best word for Davis's approach is poised, and the worst is meek. This is the mellifluous Schubert of old, the simple schoolteacher who hapened to be a melodic genius. One misses the brave thrust of Harnoncourt's readings with the Concertgebouw (Teldec), which inject a good deal of Beethoven into the mix.
If you are a traditionalist, Davis's cycle will be very satisfying--by comparison, Karajan's big-band approach with the Berlin Phil. (EMI) feels inflated and self-important. Too bad that Davis lets us down in the late masterpieces, the 'Unfinished' and the C major 'Great,' where his pleasant straightforwardness doesn't come close to doing justice to Schubert's genius. The rest of the symphonies come off sunny and bright without apology.