Schubert: Symphony No. 9 (CD review)

Also, Schumann: Symphony No. 4. Josef Krips, London Symphony Orchestra. HDTT HDCD187.

The first recording I ever owned of Franz Schubert's Ninth Symphony was this one by maestro Josef Krips and the LSO. I came to it a little late, sometime around 1970, and found it on a London Stereo Treasury LP. Unfortunately, the vinyl was rather scratchy and noisy, and while I enjoyed the performance enormously, I couldn't enjoy the sound. Then, years later, Decca issued it several times on CD, and with these releases the problem was that the sound was bright and edgy. Again, wonderful performance, but questionable sonics. So it's with enthusiasm that I can tell you how much of a relief it is finally to hear the recording in the best version I've yet to find, this one from High Definition Tape Transfers, the little company that gives us the best possible CD sound from older tapes, and in this case, LP's. More about the sound in a moment.

First, a few notes about the music and the performances. Schubert wrote his Symphony No. 9 in C major in 1828, the year he died, and it premiered after his death. Consequently, he never heard it performed in his lifetime. He would have liked Krips's rendering, though. Under Krips, the opening movement may not be as weighty as Klemperer's or as zippy as any of Mackerras's recordings, but it strikes a happy balance. More so than either of those conductors, good as they are, Krips is more playful and lilting, his rhythms always bringing delight to the spirit, if not a downright smile to the face.

Although the second-movement Andante, with its faintly gypsy overtones, can in other interpretations tend to drag, it's not so with Krips, who keeps the beat moving forward at a commendable pace. Yet he also maintains the movement's staccato-like cadences in good humor.

Still, it's in the Scherzo the we really see Krips shine, his performance exhibiting so cheerful a glow, it makes most other conductors seem positively funereal by comparison. Then, in the Finale, Krips comes through with a combination of light airiness and energetic bounce that cannot fail to charm. While this is a fairly long symphony, Krips leaves one wanting to hear even more, which is pretty much what you might want to do--listen again.  And again.

The companion piece on the disc is Robert Schumann's Symphony No. 4 in D minor. Schumann actually wrote it as his second symphony, but he wasn't happy with it, set it aside for a decade, and revised it after he had composed his Symphony No. 3. Thus, we get what started out as No. 2 as No. 4.

Schumann's symphonies, with the possible exception of No. 1, the "Spring Symphony," are generally a little heavier than Schubert's, yet Krips offers No. 4 in a somewhat more-lighthearted manner than most other conductors. He certainly makes a case for connecting the work of Schumann and Schubert. Nevertheless, his is a warm, cozy reading that should not displease anyone.

Decca recorded the Schubert piece in 1958, and HDTT transferred it to compact disc (or download) from a London LP. One hears a modicum of background hiss and a faint low-end noise, noticeable only in select and quietest passages. There is also a very wide dynamic range involved and a reasonably strong impact. Needless to say, it is not as bright or edgy as the Decca CD's I've owned, even if it is still a bit forward in the upper midrange. The sound is exceptionally clear, with little or no transient fuzz or distortion.  Now, to be honest, I still prefer the sound of the Klemperer disc (EMI-Toshiba) most of all for its greater overall smoothness; however, this HDTT disc gives it some strong competition.

The Schumann symphony, recorded in 1956, two years earlier than the Schubert, is, if anything, even clearer, warmer, smoother, and better balanced than the Schubert, if marginally so. They both make easy listening for music lovers and audiophiles alike.

For further information on the various formats, configurations, and prices of HDTT products, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/storefront.php.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

Mission Statement

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.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa