SCHUBERT: Complete Symphonies, Masses & opera Alfonso und Estrella – Soloists/Berlin Philharmonic/ Nicolaus Harnoncourt – Berlin Phil. – (8 SACDs + 1 Blu-ray stereo only)

FRANZ SCHUBERT: Symphonies, Masses and Alfonso und Estrella (TrackLists below) – Berlin Philharmonic Orch./Nikolaus Harnoncourt – Berlin Phil. BPHR 15006 [Distr. by Naxos] – The set contains 8 CDs, and identical content on one Blu-ray audio disc in 2.0 PCM + Bonus video: Nikolaus Harnoncourt in conversation [in German w/ English subtitles] (38 min) HD 1080P 16×9 – Region free – TT: 613:30 (6/5/15) ****:

For Schubert completists – all the symphonies, two masses and a rather unknown  complete opera .

This is a ‘monster’ set of all the Schubert Symphonies, along with Schubert’s final two masses, plus there is a a rare recording of the opera Alfonso und Estrella. This massive set contains 8 SACDs, 1 Blu-ray audio disc that has all the music from the SACDs in DTS-HD MA 2.0. That disc also contains a video interview with conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt. [$123 on Amazon…Ed.]

If you want to download the music, the set gives you a code to download FLAC files in 24/48 for any digital devices you own that can support the format.

The performances were recorded between 2003 and 2006. I listened to everything contained in the set over several days, and found the performances consistent and excellent.  Harnoncourt has his own views of how Schubert should be presented, and while some find them mildly eccentric, I find them dynamic and interesting. I don’t know of a better Schubert set, except for the conductor’s performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Amsterdam back in 1992 (on Warner/Teldec, now available as a low priced box-set of four CDs).

The two masses offered are excellent, with very dramatic and moving performances.The image of the soloists is stable in the front speakers, and the masses are a most welcome addition to the set, which is entirely stereo.

The final work is Schubert’s 1822 opera Alfonso und Estrella, premiered by Franz Liszt in 1854. The work was never popular, and as far as I know this is only the second recording ever done. It’s really for Schubert completists.

My listening was mostly done with the Blu-ray audio discs, which I found very good. Although the box set identifies the  surround format as DTS-HD 5.0, all the tracks are identified by my equipment as 5 but I found there was no surround signal at all. All the symphonies have a similar acoustic presence.  The two masses and the opera are very lush recordings with a solid image across the front speakers.

I also downloaded the FLAC files, and after a bit of fiddling in the Berlin Philharmonic online store finally retrieved them. The experience was overly complex, and not something I’d like to try every day. The sound of the files seemed identical to the stereo Blu-ray audio.

This deluxe editions comes with a lavish and rather large box, and a 104 page booklet in German and English. If you have dedicated shelves for your CDs, this box will probably have to go somewhere else. It’s large and a bit unwieldy.

I don’t think the Schubert Symphonies are a must by if you have the Warner/Teldec set, but if you want to make a one-purchase of Schubert this is a wonderful set. I also appreciate the flexibility of offering CDs, Blu-ray audio and downloadable FLAC files.

Disc content:

• Symphony #1 in D Major, D 82

• Symphony #2 in B Flat Major, D 125

• Symphony #3 in D Major, D 200

• Symphony #4 in C minor “Tragic”, D 417

• Symphony #5 in B Flat Major, D 485

• Symphony #6 in C Major, D 589

• Symphony #7 in B minor “Unfinished”, D 759

• Symphony #8 in C Major “Great”, D 944

• Mass #5 in A Flat Major, D 678 *

• Luba Orgonášová, soprano

• Birgit Remmert, contralto

• Kurt Streit, tenor

• Christian Gerhaher, bass

• Mass #6 in E Flat Major, D 950 *

• Dorothea Röschmann, soprano

• Bernarda Fink, contralto

• Jonas Kaufmann, tenor

• Christian Elsner, tenor

• Christian Gerhaher, bass

• Alfonso und Estrella, D 732 (Opera in 3 Acts) *

• Dorothea Röschmann (Estrella)

• Kurt Streit (Alfonso)

• Christian Gerhaher (Froila)

• Jochen Schmeckenbecher (Mauregato)

• Hanno Müller-Brachmann (Adolfo)

—Mel Martin

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