Douglas Boyd / Musikkollegium Winterthur

Schubert: Symphonies Nos. 7 & 8

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This 2011 super-audio release of Franz Schubert's two most popular symphonies is an excellent choice for audiophiles who need these works in a glorious multichannel recording. But fans of historically informed practice will note that there's little to distinguish these performances from many mainstream offerings. The Musikkollegium Winterthur is a historic Swiss orchestra, founded in 1629, but no one should infer from that fact that it is an early music ensemble. To the contrary, the group plays modern instruments in a straightforward manner, and there is nothing especially true to the early Romantic period in Douglas Boyd's interpretations, except for his observance of repeats and apparent striving for clarity in his textures. This doesn't mean purists should turn their noses up at this performance, because these are excellent renditions, and the orchestra sounds remarkably clear and vibrant in MDG's unprocessed digital recording. The Symphony No. 8 in B minor, "Unfinished" (counted as No. 7 here because of German convention), comes across as the darkest in sound and somewhat muted in character, though the orchestra is quite full in the climaxes, and the instruments are always transparent in color and line. The Symphony No. 9 in C major, "Great" (alternately, No. 8), is much brighter and bolder, and the brass sonorities really come to the fore in this recording, giving the performance a weightier massed sound. Because the reproduction hasn't been modified in any way, the dynamic range is quite wide, so it may take a little time to find the correct volume setting. But anyone who goes to the trouble will find that this SACD is equally magnificent in musical value and sound quality.

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