Schubert: Complete Symphonies & Fragments

L’Orfeo Barockorchester, Michi Gaigg
277:25 (4 CDs in a double jewel box)
cpo 555 228-2

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Any project to record the complete Schubert symphonies is a challenge. He is famously the composer of an ‘unfinished’ symphony, but in fact Schubert was a serial ‘unfinisher’ of symphonic material, and even the total number and indeed the numbering of his complete symphonies are contested. In the early 1980s, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields recorded Schubert’s ‘10 Symphonies’, including impressive reconstructions by Brian Newbold using the surviving fragments. Subsequently, a number of period instrument ensembles have settled for the eight complete symphonies. The present recording takes an alternative approach, presenting the eight complete symphonies – renumbered so that the ‘Unfinished’ is now number 7 and the ‘Great’ is number 8 – as well as all the related surviving fragments and overtures. Some of these, such as D729 are substantial, in essence, a fair proportion of two movements, whereas others D74A are tiny, coming in in the middle of the action and then cut short. There is a definite academic interest in hearing any orchestral sketches Schubert left behind, and once you are prepared for the shock of a section cutting off in mid-flow, they do also make interesting listening. Besides, you can always select only the complete symphonies to listen to if that is what you want. These are live recordings, with some retakes added later, and have all the excitement of the concert performance about them. Just occasionally there are tuning issues, fluffs, and some extraneous noises, but nothing to interfere with the overall enjoyment. Michi Gaigg’s direction finds the magic in even the slightest of fragments, and she and her forces rise well to the challenge and scale of the later symphonies. She also has an unerring instinct for tempo, and has an excellent line-up of woodwind principals to take full advantage of Schubert’s famously rewarding woodwind solos. I am not sure how often I will be listening to the fragments, but these definitely do inform what I think are excellent accounts of the complete symphonies.

D. James Ross

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