Schubert – the complete symphonies. Böhm/BPO

Review by: ClassicsToday

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 7

Anyone seeking a complete Schubert symphony cycle at mid-price may well find this set suits their needs. The performances were recorded by the Berlin Philharmonic during the period 1963-71, the “Great” C major being the earliest. The cycle now makes a welcome appearance as part of DG’s Collectors Edition series of no-frills boxed sets. Karl Böhm’s readings exemplify Old-World, which is not to say “Kapellmeister-ish”, values. Predominately, his readings favor broad but never sluggish tempos, though there are some surprising exceptions. Listen to some of Böhm’s marvelously bucolic scherzos, even the implacably trenchant one from the “Tragic” Symphony (No. 4), and you’ll often think of embryonic Bruckner. And there’s a general and quite welcome conviction that (except in the “Great” C major) where repeats were added they should be observed. It’s useful to contrast this traversal with Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s Teldec survey with the Concertgebouw, or Abbado’s DG cycle with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe: both give performances that are a bit more athletic and urgent than Böhm’s.

But motoric drive isn’t all, and Böhm was a great Schubertian. His series includes a very fine reading of Symphony No. 8 (“Unfinished”), which from the outset is reminiscent of Furtwängler’s in its deft tempo management and serene authority. The move into the cello theme (second subject) in the opening movement is always difficult, and Böhm achieves a faultless transition. There’s also a very good version of the little B-flat Symphony (No. 2) in which the virtuoso demands of Schubert’s inventive scoring are superbly met by the Berlin strings, who play with lightness and brilliance in the first movement at speeds that are not significantly slower than Harnoncourt’s. Symphony No. 5 is also memorably done, with an especially fine slow movement and an exciting finale. In sum, these are Schubert performances of high distinction, belonging to an older tradition that’s still got plenty to commend it these days, thanks to Böhm’s knowingly sympathetic direction and the fine playing of the Berlin Philharmonic. Recorded sound is fully acceptable in these new transfers.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Harnoncourt/Concertgebouw (Teldec)

FRANZ SCHUBERT - The Complete Symphonies

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