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Schubert: Symphonies Nos. 8 & No. 9
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Sir Charles Mackerras has already recorded this music with the period instrument Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, but these modern orchestra versions are better still. He seems to have both a firmer grasp of the musical argument, and lighter hand with repeats (thank God--especially in the frequently endless Scherzo of the Ninth Symphony). The Scottish Chamber Orchestra gives him everything he asks for, and Telarc's sonics are just right. --David Hurwitz
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So why do I think that? The performance just doesn't sparkle or come to life. I am fan of Mackerras and have enjoyed several of his CD releases greatly and my guess is that he and his orchestra went into the studio all set to give a vibrant and crack performance and somehow the plans and preparation didn't cohere. There is something a bit lifeless about the way all the wonderful Schubert melodies are presented. Perhaps the performers weren't having any fun? Likewise, the darker moments don't sound quite sincere. For example, yhe tragic first movement development of the Unfinished Symphony didn't carry the pathos it normally does for me. There is something off here.
This disc is from an audiophile label and is touted as a first-rate digital recording, but I beg to differ as the colors of the instruments are subdued and neutralized. I'm wondering whether some treble roll-off occurred in the process. This is not a disc I'd ever take with me if I were to demo stereo equipment. In its defense, there is none of the brightness that afflicts some digital recordings and it is very detailed. But that makes it neither bad nor exceptional.
After listening to this disc for a couple of weeks and never building up enthusiasm, I went back and fished out the old Bruno Walter recording of the 9th symphony, expecting it to be a sluggish performance with the bad remastering which has afflicted so many of Walter's great LPs. Instead, I immediately sat up alert: the instrumental colors were vivid, Walter knows exactly how to manage the transitions - making them both nuanced and forward-moving - and, most important of all, the orchestra musicians were playing with enthusiasm and clear love for the music. After spending an hour with the Walter disc, I was looking forward to hearing this recording again, very soon. It was an emotion never evoked by the Mackerras disc, unfortunately.
I would also recommend Wand with Berliner (No repeat) and Abbado with Orchestra Mozart (All Repeats)