This latest series of five Living Stereo SACD reissue is the first both of the Schubert Symphonies have been coupled on a single disc, as well as the first time we are able to hear the Ninth as originally recorded – on three channels instead of two. The sessions took place in Boston’s Symphony Hall in 1955 and 1958 and Munch probed the depths of both symphonies with the orchestra with which he had such a warm and close connection.
The Unfinished is a concert warhorse by now, but Munch has a fresh approach that enlivens the sometimes sodden work. Though only in two channels, sonics are clean and rich and serve the music well. The Ninth (also originally numbered as the Seventh) had a difficult time getting performed after its inception. Some orchestra musicians laughed at the repeated iterations of the main rhythmic figure in the final movement, for example, and refused to perform the symphony. Schubert was laying the groundwork for the heavenly repetitions to come later from Bruckner. The wider and deeper soundstage makes the subtle changes in the orchestration and harmonies more noticeable than on some two-channel versions. While Toscanini’s recording of the Ninth is considered a classic, I find Munch’s more powerful and exciting in every way, as well as benefitting from superb sonics – which cannot be said of any of the Toscanini recordings. Even the culmination of the repetitions at the end of the last movement sound inevitable and perfectly appropriate to the wrap up of this 45-minute extravaganza.
– John Sunier