Franz Schubert: Complete Symphonies & Fragments. L'Orfeo Barockorchester / Michi Gaigg. © 2021 cpo

CD Spotlight

Uniquely Gifted

Schubert's symphonies, heard by GERALD FENECH

'A deluge of unending beauty that goes straight to the heart, gloriously performed and recorded.'


The Symphonies of the Viennese composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828) form a central repertory of orchestral masterpieces that have fascinated concert audiences for nearly two centuries. Although Schubert never heard a single one of them played by a full symphony orchestra in his lifetime, they began to excite great attention throughout Europe in the 1830s, and three of them, Nos 5, 8 and 9 (on this recording Nos 5, 7 and 8) are still among the most frequently performed in the world. Listeners treasure Schubert's symphonic works for their uniquely appealing melodic style and orchestral effects that evoke the sentiment and mysticism of the nascent Romantic style in music. For many they are the ultimate 'easy listening' in classical music.

One of the greatest musical prodigies, Schubert was already composing unique masterpieces in his teens. Tragically, his life was cut short by the effects of substance and syphilis, and he never attained the recognition he deserved as a genius during his lifetime. His style is firmly rooted in traditions of classicism brilliantly cultivated in his native city since the late eighteenth century, but with influences from Viennese popular music and intimations of the new romantic language with its emphasis on sentiment, emotion and supernatural effects.

This four CD set not only includes the complete set of symphonies, but also the complete fragments, and this is very pertinent to all of Schubert's symphonic output. Indeed, although Joseph von Spaun termed Schubert 'a song composer' not long after his death, his compositional oeuvre may be said to be framed by a symphonic fragment and a sketch for a symphony. The former was the score of an overture (D 2A) committed to paper circa 1810-11, and abandoned in the middle of the exposition.

Listen — Schubert: Overture in D, D 2A
(CD1 track 5, 0:01-0:57) ℗ 2021 cpo :

The latter was a draft of three movements for a Symphony in D (D 936A) largely worked out in full from the last works, if not from the last days of his life. During the period of some eighteen years between these two manuscripts, Schubert occupied himself creatively with almost all the established musical forms of the day.

The symphonic fragments heard on this album often consist of scores containing only a few measures with the later addition of the instrumentation of a piece, for example, measure 209 to 233 from the first movement of the String Quartet D 74. Since the composer assigned the date 3 September 1813 to this movement following its final notes, he must have written the fragment immediately prior to the beginning of his work on the first symphony.

Schubert's first five symphonies were written in his late teenage years. All conform to the four-movement format that was so popular with Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, and they are not short on melodic and harmonic ingenuity. Still, it is only in the Fourth (Tragic) and Fifth that the composer starts to show signs of constructive maturity.

Listen — Schubert: Allegro (Tragic Symphony)
(CD3 track 4, 0:00-0:59) ℗ 2021 cpo :

In the Fifth in B flat, Schubert succeeded in putting a very personal stamp on the Mozartian techniques he used for inspiration.

Listen — Schubert: Allegro (Symphony No 5 in B flat)
(CD2 track 5, 0:01-1:00) ℗ 2021 cpo :

The two completed symphonies written after the composer reached the age of twenty - No 6 (1817-18) and No 9, The Great C Major (No 8 on this recording) - were completed at a disputed time in the year before his death and are much more individualistic than the preceding ones. The Sixth evokes a lightness and charm very much in tune with less weighty Viennese musical traditions.

Listen — Schubert: Andante ('Little' C major Symphony)
(CD3 track 6, 0:35-1:27) ℗ 2021 cpo :

The Great C Major, in contrast, evokes the grandeur of the most expansive Beethoven Symphonies, but in a thoroughly personal way.

Listen — Schubert: Andante - Allegro ma non troppo ('Great' C major Symphony)
(CD4 track 1, 0:02-0:59) ℗ 2021 cpo :

Ironically, Schubert's best loved symphony is an unfinished work. The Eighth in B minor (the Seventh on this recording) remains the only one known to have been left uncompleted by any composer that has found acceptance as a masterpiece by audiences and critics the world over. Schubert worked on the piece during 1822 but only managed an opening not-so-fast movement and an Andante con moto that has poignancy written all over it, and which listeners find so affecting.

Listen — Schubert: Andante con moto ('Unfinished' Symphony)
(CD2 track 10, 9:33-10:30) ℗ 2021 cpo :

On the occasion of its twenty-fifth anniversary, L'Orfeo Barockorchester is releasing this gem of a set encompassing the whole symphonic utterings of this uniquely gifted composer. A deluge of unending beauty that goes straight to the heart, gloriously performed and recorded. This year marks the 225th anniversary of Schubert's birth; wouldn't it be ideal if you were to get this compilation sooner rather than later?

Copyright © 3 January 2022 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta







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