Frans Brüggen's cycle of Franz Schubert's symphonies recorded in Utrecht in the early to mid-1990's has always been highly rated and its new issue in a bargain basement, space-saving box set is true cause for rejoicing. Matching any conductor's speeds and infecting these lovely works with an infectious and spirited vitality was Brüggen's mission and I can only state that he succeeds to the letter in some wonderfully atmospheric recordings.
The first four symphonies are magnificently alert and infused with passion, rather similar to Lorin Maazel's recordings with the Berlin Philharmonic in the early 60's. The palpable sense of discovery permeates the music especially in the opening of the 4th, 'Tragic' with the period brass instruments providing that sense of attack which really makes a difference. I also greatly enjoyed the 5th and 6th although still retaining a soft spot for Beecham's lovely recordings with the London Philharmonic – it is rather strange to note that conductor's disappearance from critical reviews of late.
Brüggen conducts an impassioned and free flowing 'Unfinished', although there is nothing much to point out here except a good, no nonsense reading in the mould of Karajan in 1955. The 'Great' symphony moves along pretty well although again, my soft spot for Böhm and the Staatskapelle Dresden or Kertész and the VPO still remains. All in all a fine set with an interesting essay by Jeremy Hayes added in the bargain and completing what has to be a sound recommendation from me.
Copyright © 2007, Gerald Fenech