SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 9 in C Major, D. 944 “The Great” – Orch. Mozart/ Claudio Abbado – DGG 479 4652, 62:47 (6/23/15) [Distr. by Universal] ***:
Recorded late September 2011 in concert performance from the Bologna Auditorium Manzoni and Bolzano Konzerthaus, this Schubert C Major Symphony comes to us as part of an ongoing, posthumous tribute to conductor Claudio Abbado (1933-2014). While some recent commentators have canonized the Italian conductor, there also exist those who saw in him more of the manner of a reliable, though consistently uninspired, Kapellmeister on a par with the late Gunter Wand. The truth doubtless lies somewhere between the extremes, with Abbado’s having won adherents through sheer work ethic and the breadth of a formidable repertory.
The performance in question evolves broadly, in consonance with the work’s oft-quoted “heavenly length.” Abbado appears keen to highlight his wind and brass sections, hand-picked by Abbado in 2004, the year of his establishing his Orchestra Mozart. After the Andante’s introductory bars, with their “Black Forest” sensibility, Abbado’s Allegro ma non troppo certainly conforms to the “not too fast” indication, remaining politely jubilant, energetic without risks. We of the old school miss the unbuttoned histrionics of Mengelberg or the seething heat Toscanini could accord this grand music. For those of a more mystical persuasion, Wilhelm Furtwangler’s Berlin Philharmonic account still reigns supreme.
Abbado imbues the second movement Andante con moto with the affect of a genial, folksy laendler on a large scale. The woodwind and flute principals deliver loving soli in the course of the martial rhythm. Rossana Calvi performs the lovely oboe work with lyrical dignity. The color scheme remains attractive, the sense of intimate music-making entirely genial and gemuetlich. Engineer Stephen Flock’s sonic balances make the sheen of Orchestra Mozart eminently attractive. Somehow, the total effect never becomes visceral, but rather demure within clearly defined dynamic limits. Where Mengelberg hurtles into the Scherzo and proffers frequent (Beethoven) thunderbolts, Abbado elicits happy, tame, symmetrical phrases that come much too close to Viennese kitsch. True, the deft lightness of the ensemble string section and tympani deserve honorable mention, especially in the Trio waltz-like melodies. The last movement’s explosive triplet motif Toscanini made an overwhelming force of Nature. Abbado’s sense of Molto vivace settles – in spite of the repeat – for buoyantly pretty, almost as if he were conducting Mendelssohn. Good work from Thomas Hammerschmidt’s trumpet, but his efforts fall within a realm of musically polite civility that, for me, misses the divine madness Schubert knew when in the course of this music he alludes to his idol Beethoven.