Schubert: Symphony No. 9 "The Great" (CD review)

Sir Simon Rattle, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. EMI 0946 3 39382 2.

Recordings of Schubert's music are always welcome, especially from so accomplished a conductor as Sir Simon Rattle and so refined an orchestra as the Berlin Philharmonic. But in the Schubert Ninth Sir Simon has his work cut out for him with the competition so tough.

The Ninth, a wonderful symphony filled with one memorable tune after another, has the double advantage of being open to varied interpretations. Like much of Schubert's music, the Ninth is music one can interpret lightly and cheerfully, and such conductors as Joseph Krips (Decca or HDTT), George Szell (Sony), and Georg Solti (Decca) have provided us with delightfully buoyant performances. Yet the exceptional length of the work--the longest non-choral symphony until Bruckner and Mahler years later--also encourages a more serious reading, and people like Otto Klemperer (EMI), Jeffrey Tate (EMI), and Gunther Wand (RCA) have given us just such recordings.

Rattle takes the former course, his Ninth being full of sparkling high spirits. For purposes of this review I compared it to both a heavier and a lighter-weight performance, those of Tate and Krips. Not surprisingly in this comparison, Tate seems not just heavier but almost heavy-handed. Not that I dislike what Tate does, but it's a performance that one should listen to entirely on its own rather in comparison with anything else; otherwise, you lose track of what Tate is trying to do. However, compared to Krips, Rattle is not so sprightly or festive, either. Krips provides a thoroughly joyous Ninth, and he outshines Rattle at almost every point, Krips's rhythms springier and bouncier, with Rattle a tad more calculated and conservative. So we've got Rattle sort of in the middle here; but it's only in direct comparison that the differences are noticeable. On its own, Rattle's rendering of the symphony is quite charming.

In terms of sound, EMI's live recording for Rattle is more than acceptable, if a touch fuzzy around the edges. Tate's recording, for instance, displays more ambient bloom while also being better focused; Krips's recording, particularly in the HDTT remastering, is a little less warm but far more sharply defined. Still, I doubt that too many listeners are going to complain about the sound of the Rattle/BPO disc. Nothing can mask the sheer, radiant beauty of the music they make.


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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