Schubert: Symphonies 5 & 8 (CD review)

Symphony No. 8 completed by Brian Newbould; Rosamunde Ballet Music No. 2. Sir Charles Mackerras, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Virgin Classics 50999 628605 2 9.

The two most-salient features of this reissued coupling are (1) that Sir Charles Mackerras conducts both the Fifth Symphony and Eighth Symphony of Franz Schubert (1797-1828) using a period-instruments band, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and (2) he conducts the completed version of the Eighth using an educated reconstruction by Brian Newbould. Those considerations and the fact that Virgin now offer the album at a budget price make it something worth looking into.

Schubert never saw the Symphony No. 5 (1816) played in his lifetime, the work not getting a performance until 1846, many years after his death. It's odd mainly because the Symphony No. 5 is one of the composer's most-delicate and delightful creations. With Mackerras's direction the opening Allegro floats lightly along, followed by a cultured if somewhat regimented Andante, a most-refined Minuetto, and a very lively if slightly matter-of-fact finale. OK, this is not quite in Sir Thomas Beecham's league, who with his  EMI stereo recording practically owns the rights to this music, but Mackerras is charming enough in his own right.

Purists beware: The version of Schubert's "Unfinished" Eighth Symphony (begun in 1822) Mackerras chose to record is one completed by composer, conductor, lecturer, pianist, critic, and Schubert scholar Brian Newbould. It uses a reconstructed third movement and the Entr'acte Music No. 1 from Schubert's Rosamunde for the concluding Allegro.

Does it work? Well, under Mackerras's baton the music is gracefully fluid and flowing, with the added material not seeming entirely out of place in the scheme of things. However, I don't really see the necessity of it except as a novelty. The completion is, after all, mere guesswork on Newbould's part. Besides, no matter how much Mackerras tries to make it all hang together, the final two movements just don't seem like real Schubert to me, even if the composer did write much of it himself. Maybe it's just a matter of expectations and what one has become used to, I don't know. It never feels right.

What does feel right, though, is Schubert's Ballet Music No. 2 from Rosamunde, which wraps up the program. Mackerras executes precisely the right touch in bringing out the music's inherently bucolic bounce and rhythm.

Released in 1992, just a few years after Mackerras's success with Schubert's Symphony No. 9 with the same orchestra and now reissued on this budget disc in 2010, the recording is at once warm, smooth, and mildly resonant, without these qualities hampering too much the music's inner detail or midrange clarity. You get none of the hard or edgy qualities sometimes associated with recordings of period-instruments ensembles. While it is not sparkling audiophile sound in terms of dynamic range, impact, or extended bass or treble, it is pleasant and easy on the ear, with a fine stage depth.


1 comment:

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa