Philharmonia Orchestra

Schubert: Symphony No. 9

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Assuming that idiomatic expressions, efficient tempos, spry rhythms, translucent timbres, and the observance of repeats may be sufficient to give Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 9 in C major, "The Great," a respectable period treatment, even though it is played by a conventional orchestra on modern instruments, Charles Mackerras and the Philharmonia Orchestra have come quite close to accomplishing that task. Their live 2006 recording of this symphony, perhaps the last of the Classical symphonies in spirit, if not in its Romantic size and scale, is undeniably historically informed and cogently interpreted, without resorting to a drastic reduction of the orchestra, rearrangement of seating, or introduction of authentic 19th century instruments, the hallmarks of some early music practitioners. This reveals an essential point about historic re-creations, insofar as a proper attitude can go a long way to making a work sound of a particular vintage, and that the external trappings of period practice are perhaps less significant to a successful performance than practical musical know-how and stylistic intelligence. These Mackerras has in great supply, and he directs the Philharmonia to play with crispness, clarity, and more vitality and spontaneity than are usually given this revered symphony. Mackerras' use of brisk tempos is standard, but his application of accelerandos (notably in the first movement's recapitulation and in the second movement's climactic fanfares), seems expressively appropriate and exciting. To round out the performance coherently, the Scherzo and the Finale are just as vigorous and assertive, and the Philharmonia throws itself into these movements with exceptional energy and joy, and there is never a dull moment. In terms of sound, this is an astonishingly clean and noise-free live recording, with only the audience sounds between tracks and the applause at the end to indicate that this was a concert setting. Highly recommended.

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