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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 6 in C major (1818) [33:04]
Symphony No. 8 in B minor ‘Unfinished’ (1822) [26:00]
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra/Sir Roger Norrington
rec. 9-11 November 2011, SWR Studio, Stuttgart

Schubert’s Sixth is not an easy piece to bring off. The challenge surrounds the requirement to articulate the tricky rhythmic contour of the first movement's principal material at a suitable tempo. It must be at once lively and sensitively phrased.
Roger Norrington’s new recording of the piece is highly satisfactory, while another successful performance on CD comes from Günter Wand (Testament SBT1364) who manages to achieve this demanding balancing of opposing forces, with beguiling results. Not that Norrington fails to achieve similar standards, however, and he is also excellent in the remaining movements, with some very pleasing string playing in particular.
The temptation with the celebrated Unfinished Symphony is to think that had he lived longer, Schubert would have completed it. The worthy attempts of various people to provide the two remaining movements have encouraged this erroneous view. The truth of the matter is that Schubert wrote this piece in 1822, more than five years before his tragically early death. Since the music was not played and was not known during his lifetime, no-one can be sure whether or not he intended to turn it into a conventional four-movement piece. No matter, since what we have is so wonderfully effective on its own terms, and Schubert evidently thought so too. Here the orchestra is larger, the textures richer, the manner more romantic, dramatic and forceful.
In this popular symphony the CD market-place is a good deal more competitive. Norrington brings a satisfying sense of completeness to his interpretation, and the playing of the Stuttgart orchestra is precise and distinguished in every department. If there is a hint of severity in the first movement that is no bad thing. It serves to enhance the symphonic tensions and Schubert’s powerful orchestration, replete with trombones. The chosen tempo for the second movement Andante is on the fast side, as is this conductor’s preference in classical repertoire, and therefore a degree of lyricism is passed by. If a more romantic approach is sought then a safe recommendation would be Claudio Abbado’s recording (DG 4236552) with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.  

Terry Barfoot

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