I just ran across the extended Schubert cycle from Jonathan Nott, the English conductor and his Bamberg orchestra, extended because two albums offer modern compositions in the spirit of Schubert, some as homages, others as completions and orchestrations. Here we have a pair of teenage productions, Sym. #1 and #3, along with an undisputed masterpiece, Sym. #8 "Unfinished." By no means is this CD going to surpass more sophisticated rivals, but it conveys a rough charm and bucolic innocence -- quite deliberately -- that suits this music, which is all about the joys of a budding adolescent genius.
Everything in the early symphonies is light and bright, with a quick amble through the Andantes and bucolic bumptiousness in the Minuets. The Bamberg strings aren't really up to the Allegro vivace of the Third, but Nott finds a more relaxed tempo that retains the music's high spirits. Then a surprise comes in the first movement of the Unfinished, which is taken much more slowly than usual, turning the mood darker and more melancholy. Nott's conception is defensible; if only his orchestra had more power and authority to convey it. The second movement is conventional, and for an added fillip we get half a minute of Schubert's sketch for a minuet -- frankly, it doesn't sound all that promising.
But despite the less than convincing "Unfinished," this whole album strikes just the right note and serves as an antidote to big-band Schubert that overblows the early charm of youthful works.