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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No.8 in D in B minor (Unfinished)* [25:51]
Symphony No.9 in C (The Great)** [50:14]
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra* and Failoni Orchestra**/Michael Halasz
rec. Moyzes Hall, Bratislava, 4-5 June 1988 (No.8); Italian Institute, Budapest, March 1994 (No.9)
NAXOS 8.572939 [76:28]

Michael Halasz recorded all of the Schubert symphonies for Naxos (8.505032) and this reissue brings together nos. 8 and 9. Neither would be top choices but as a coupling this CD is very enjoyable.
 
The Unfinished was recorded in 1988 and is fairly typical of early Naxos digital. The strings are slightly edgy and the acoustic is thin and not very glamorous. The Slovak Philharmonic is a good orchestra and the execution is professional - it reminded me of the sort of performance you would hear from a radio broadcast given by a British regional orchestra. The Unfinished is glorious music and this performance is moving and affectionate. The first movement is both dramatic and mysterious and the exposition repeat is given here, thank goodness. The Andante con moto flows nicely - definitely con moto - with good contributions from the solo clarinet, flute and oboe. Ensemble, judged by the highest standards, isn’t immaculate but there are no serious flaws. Halasz clearly loves Schubert and that shines through.
 
The Great C major is a recording from 1994 and of the two symphonies presented here by Halasz this is far superior on all counts. The Failoni Orchestra is small chamber orchestra drawn from the Hungarian State Opera. Maybe the epic quality of a full-sized symphony orchestra is missing in a few passages but there is a gain in clarity and definition. At no point does the orchestra sound particularly small and it is supported by the glowing acoustic of the Italian Institute in Budapest. It’s a shame that Halasz wasn’t given this kind of sound in the Unfinished. The general concept of the reading is all about highlighting Schubert’s dance rhythms and lyricism. We don’t have a Brucknerian majesty in this reading but what we hear is a symphony that delights the ear with its tunes and inner detail. It really dances along and very attractive it is too. After a slightly nervous opening to the first movement - wobbly horn tone - the allegro itself goes along with terrific drive. The second movement can be a colossal bore in the wrong hands. Not so here. Halasz keeps things moving and the oboe soloist and the rest of the wind section play beautifully. The cello entry at 9:15 adds a nice touch of Schubertian melancholy to the proceedings and the wind soloists bring the movement to a satisfactory close. The bouncy, energetic scherzo is followed by a finale that really does the music justice. Despite the size of the orchestra the closing pages are suitably overwhelming with the blazing brass cutting through the scurrying strings - dare I really say here that Eric Coates came to mind? Maybe not. The Failoni Orchestra should be very proud of this performance. The playing is totally committed and the sound they produce is sweet and well-balanced. The string tone is nicely captured by the engineers in stark contrast to what was achieved in the Unfinished. The words ‘jaunty’ and ‘bouncy’ keep springing to mind. The music dances along throughout.
 
In summary, this CD offers thoroughly decent versions of these two great Schubert symphonies at bargain price with a playing time of over 76 minutes. This is excellent value for money and no one buying it on impulse will be disappointed. Having said that, neither of the symphonies presented here can challenge the finest versions on the market in terms of musical insight and orchestral playing but as a bargain coupling it is to be welcomed. As bargain Ninths go this is certainly one of the best.
 
John Whitmore