Schubert Complete Symphonies
The three LP shown above of Schubert's early symphonies have already been praised in these columns, which leaves me free to concentrate on the four new ones. They too should, in my opinion, be made available separately at an early date, for they are of great interest.
Marriner's performances of the Unfinished and the Great C major are magnificent. The latter would certainly be on my ''Critics' Choice'' list if it could be bought on its own. The first movement has unusual tension and excitement, and the second is beautifully relaxed with every detail clear, and what entrancing details they are. I can't think of any movement by any composer before 1825 which is so subtly scored for the brass. I personally regret the repeat in the finale; it tends to draw attention to a falling-off in quality which you might not otherwise notice. But his is certainly a performance to treasure.
The other three LPs have all been helped on their way by Professor Brian Newbould of Hull University. In the Unfinished the first movement is splendidly taut, and Marriner finds the perfect tempo for the slow movement which sounds very steady and unsentimental; Newbould has made a good job of scoring the main section of the Scherzo from the two-stave sketch (only nine bars survive in full score), and he has virtually composed the Trio himself, acceptably emphasizing the woodwind at the expense of the strings. The result, played with great spirit, stands up surprisingly well after the familiar Andante con moto. But what of the finale? For a London performance of 1881 the B minor Entr'acte in the Rosamunde music was added at Sir George Grove's suggestion, and more recently it has been suggested that Schubert, short of time, ripped this movement off the end of the Unfinished score for use in the Rosamunde production of 1823. There are reasons for discounting this theory, but on balance I think it likely, and it is played as the finale in this recording. Like the finale of the Great C major it is not up to the preceding movements in quality, but here it sounds more satisfying then you might expect because, unusually, it is very well played. This is much the best completion of the Unfinished known to me.
The other two records consist of symphonic sketches filled out and scored by Newbould. Of special interest is No. 10 in D. (I wrote in September about Bartholomee's much inferior performance with the Liege Philharmonic Orchestra on Ricercar/Impetus RIC023.) Schubert sketched three movements in piano score on his death bed. The first lacks part of the development and all the recapitulation; it is graced with a lovely second subject. The sombre slow movement is a wonder. Marriner plays it at about the same speed as the slow movement in the Unfinished, also in 3/8, but here Andante is not qualified by con moto and I would have preferred a slower tempo, not quite so slow as on the Bartholomee LP, but I found his version very impressive. Had Schubert lived, he would no doubt have added many subtle details in the scoring such as are to be found in the C major's slow movement, and the bareness might have been reduced. But a marvellous movement as scored quite simply by Newbould. There is no conventional scherzo, and Newbould thinks Schubert never intended four movements. Bartholomee included one dating from about 1820; it is in the right key, fully scored, almost complete and very good indeed. How else to rescue it? But it starts with the same six-quaver bar as the Scherzo of the C major which perhaps rules it out.
On the other side of this LP there are sketches perhaps for yet another symphony in D, and this is where the scherzo just mentioned appears. But of the other three movements only the beginnings survive; that for the first movement is splendid.
I have little to add to what I wrote in September about Newbould's realization of Symphony No. 7 in E, which was played by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra under Gabriel Chmura (Schwann/Impetus VMS1601F). Marriner's performance is much more alive than Chmura's, and I enjoyed the first movement, but not much the slow one apart from the pretty end which I suspect is more Newbould than Schubert. Indeed, with nearly two-thirds of the whole symphony surviving on only one stave, Schubert cannot have made a very positive contribution to the end result. But Newbould's work on the Unfinished and No. 10 is of unusual importance and I very much hope that his versions of them will find a regular place in the repertoire of all major orchestras.'