Gerard Schwarz’s Schubert “Great” Rediscovered

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

This 1987 recording of Schubert’s Ninth Symphony with Gerard Schwarz leading the New York Chamber Symphony was rediscovered in 2017 by its original engineer Marc Aubort. He and the conductor have edited it for release, and the expression “better late than never” easily applies to the performance in hand.

Although we miss the luminous sonority and tonal heft of a full string section, Schwarz’s smaller forces still convey a wide dynamic range, with vivid details aplenty from the winds and brass. This may have more than a little to do with the Manhattan Center’s ample resonance.

The first-movement introduction unfolds slowly. Without accelerating, Schwarz assiduously establishes the main section’s lively basic tempo. What supple interplay Schwarz elicits from his players in the repeated triplet figurations throughout the movement. Also note the euphonious woodwind chording supporting the solo oboe and clarinet passages, and the slight yet purposeful broadenings in loud tuttis. The Scherzo abounds with subtly pointed counter melodies and ever-so-slight tempo adjustments that heighten the music’s characterful contrasts.

If the finale doesn’t take wing to the exhilarating effect of Szell or Munch, one cannot deny the orchestra’s rhythmic élan, driving momentum, and virtuosic aplomb. Whether or not you agree with Schwarz’s premise in observing nearly every repeat, he generally justifies his doing so by slightly adjusting a balance or a point of emphasis on the second go-rounds. Given Schwarz’s joyful, intelligent music making, perhaps Schubert’s “heavenly length” isn’t really a liability. Well worth hearing.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Szell/Cleveland (Sony); Munch/Boston (RCA); Karajan/Berlin (DG)


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