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CD Review

Franz Schubert

Late Symphonies

  • Symphony #8 "Unfinished" in B minor, D. 759 (1822)
  • Symphony #9 "Great" in C Major, D. 944 (1828)
London Symphony Orchestra and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Josef Krips
London "Classic Sound" 452892-2
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The 1978 Penguin Guide to LPs gave this "Great" a rosette and wrote, "Josef Krips never made a finer record than this, and in the current reissue the sound is outstanding too, with a glowing bloom cast over the entire orchestra. The performance itself has a direct, unforced spontaneity, which shows Krips' natural feeling for Schubertian lyricism at its most engaging. The playing is polished yet flexible, strong without ever sounding aggressive. In the two final movements Krips finds an airy exhilaration which makes one wonder however other conductors can keep the music earthbound as they do. The pointing of the trio in the scherzo is delectable, and the feathery lightness of the triplets in the finale makes one positively welcome every single one of its many repetitions. As a whole this reading represents the Viennese tradition at its very finest, and this record is not surpassed in the present catalogue either on grounds of sound or as a performance…"

I have quoted the entry in full because I don't see any sense in 're-inventing the wheel'. The previous CD incarnation was a distinct disappointment. The strings sounded thin and the whole perspective was dry. This has now been righted and the recording is restored to its rightful place. The coupling this time is more welcome (it was Krips' recording of Schumann's 4th) if not quite in the same league as the 9th. The first movement of the "Unfinished" is dark and mysterious, but the second seems somewhat perfunctory. Checking the Penguin's comments about it, they noted that the performance "…may lack some of the bite which even this symphony should have…" but still recommended it for its warmth.

One of the nice things about the most recent "Classic Sound" issues is the insert notes. They spend much time, in this case all of it, discussing the conductor and the works he recorded on the disc. The comments are all the more welcome since the typical generic comments about the pieces are usually vacuous anyway. This is the case here where we learn a lot about Krips, a conductor who never attained the status of a Stokowski but was a vital force in music making in his time. Krips' interpretations were always warm and lyrical rather than dramatic and forceful. He never imposed his personality upon the music, but rather brought out from the music Krips' feelings about it.

I note, again, how dramatically improved the latest CD issues are from London/Decca. As I have pointed out in other reviews, the latest issues are 'made in America'. Previous discs were made in Germany and were dry and thin sounding. Whatever has been changed, the music now is fuller and warmer, while more detailed at the same time. Stings have a rich sound, with feathery detail where needed. I hope that Decca will continue to issue these wonderful recordings. They reflect the best in CD sound and give us interpretations which are from a time when giants did walk the earth. We used to have conductors, now we mainly hear directors.

Copyright © 1998, Robert Stumpf II