Schubert: Symphony No. 9 (CD review)

Gunter Wand, Munich Philharmonic Orchestra.  Profil PHO6014.

Just a month before receiving this 1993 live Profil recording from Gunter Wand and the Munich Philharmonic, I reviewed Sir Colin Davis's 1996 live recording of Schubert's Ninth with the Staatskapelle, Dresden, also from Profil. So, Profil seems to be on a live Schubert Ninth kick from the Nineties. Not that I'm complaining; both recordings are quite nice.

Indeed, the two recordings are more than nice, and you could hardly go wrong with either of them. I mean, unless you had them side by side as I did, you could hardly tell them apart. Davis's disc is slightly warmer in tone, and Davis plays the symphony at a marginally faster tempo. Otherwise, contrasts, lyricism, lilt, solemnity, joy, and excitement abound in equal measures in both performances.

If you remember, the Great C major Symphony was something of a change of pace for Schubert; it was bigger, broader, and moodier than anything he had done before, his earlier symphonies, including the "Unfinished," comparatively gentle and light. The C major gives way to a more massive structure and more serious themes, yet it contains a wealth of memorable tunes one after another, giving it the advantage of being open to varied interpretations. In Schubert's own day, people deemed it unplayable, unfortunately, and Schubert would never hear it performed.

Like Davis, Wand plays up both the weighty and the lyrical elements of the work. The interpretation is relaxed yet serious. He plays up the sprightly parts while maintaining a weighty decorum. Unlike Davis, however, Wand takes a more measured, almost solemn approach to the second movement Andante, which, nevertheless, provides a good juxtaposition with the energetic Scherzo that follows. By the time Wand reaches the big finale, the boisterous Allegro vivace, he is as rousing as any conductor of any age.

Also like Davis's recording, I doubt I would have identified it as live except for the unfortunate eruption of applause at its conclusion. The sound for Wand is not quite so velvety smooth as for Davis, nor does it have as comforting a bass, but it is clear and fairly clean. As I say, you can't go wrong with Gunter Wand in the Schubert Ninth, especially as he has recorded it several times before, and this one is as good as the best.


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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa