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Period instruments are played in a modern style to provide timeless results.
Repertoire: ‘Great’ Symphony No.9/Five German Dances
Artists: Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer
Label: Channel Classics ccssa31111
The Music: Only one symphony is known as, simply, the ‘Great’. Schubert died before hearing his epic ninth symphony, at the time thought to be unplayable due to its length and technical demands. Today it is a much-loved evergreen.
The Performance: Do you perform music composed in the 1820s on period instruments, or modern ones? Iván Fischer here opts for compromise, using smaller, period-style clarinets, natural horns (with their strange, fizzy-sounding ‘stopped notes’), and small-bore trombones, but with everyone else playing in sumptuous modern style. The result is a bizarre non-mix. But in every other way this performance convinces, with gorgeously in-tune woodwind, a lovely emphasis on the music’s Viennese, dance-like grace, and tempi from Fischer that build momentum while also allowing plenty of space. The teenage Schubert’s German dances make a pleasing sorbet after the main course.
The Verdict: There are grander and more exciting recordings of the ninth symphony, but this one goes its own very appealing way, with top-flight orchestral quality in every department.
Want More? The fabulously gifted Carlos Kleiber made very few recordings: two of them, fortunately, are Schubert’s symphonies Nos. 8 and 3, played by the lustrous Vienna Philharmonic