Schubert: Symphonies/Muti

Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

This is a first-rate Schubert cycle, and we can only wonder what is in store for EMI now that it has decided to license its best artists and orchestras to super-budget labels like Brilliant Classics. Who would have thought that the so-called “majors” would wind up as a source library for enterprising independents! How ironic! Well, it’s the listener’s gain in any case. No one paid much attention to this series when it was first released in the late 1980s and early ’90s, amid a flood of recordings that in retrospect looks increasingly like the classical music equivalent of the New Orleans levees breaking due to hurricane Katrina. I frankly don’t think most of the big labels even know what they have, or more to the point, why they made it in the first place.

Muti is an interesting case–a conductor whose recording career began brilliantly and then fizzled out, more or less, on several labels, including Sony, EMI, and Philips. Some of his best symphonic work was done in Vienna–not just this set, but also his Schumann cycle for Philips. The orchestra’s natural warmth of expression and big sound seem to mesh perfectly with his rhythmic discipline and energetic basic approach. The result is an “Unfinished” whose first movement has all of the necessary proto-Brucknerian weight but also plenty of anguish and excitement, while the Andante con moto for once really is “con moto”.

Muti’s also is one of the few performances of the “Great” Ninth Symphony that offers all of the big repeats without ever bogging down, and anyone who knows this music well will understand what a major achievement that represents. The early symphonies are each very beautifully played and conducted, and you get the Rosamunde music too, all on four really cheap discs. This necessitates breaking the Ninth across two CDs, but at this price, who cares? EMI’s digital sonics are a touch glassy, but otherwise they are as big and rich as the performances. A steal.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Symphony Cycles: Blomstedt/Dresden (Berlin Classics)

FRANZ SCHUBERT - Symphonies Nos. 1-6; Symphony No. 8 "Unfinished" & No. 9 "The Great"; Overture & Incidental Music from Rosamunde

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