… or ‘Schubert 7’ if that’s your preferred reference point. But, boy, Jordi Savall and his period-instrument Le Concert Des Nations (Alia Vox AVSA9950, 2cds, c£13) give this masterpiece the outing of its life, with Toscanini-style timps firing from the turrets in big tutti passages and a cunning acceleration from Andante to Allegro ma non troppo to set the work on its way. No wonder the album is called ‘Transfiguration’. Note too the rustic phrasing of the first movement’s second subject (3:46), birdsong from the eaves you might say, and when the repeat arrives (which it does at 5:43) you’re grateful that – hey! – you can enjoy it all over again.
This is the most physical Schubert 9 I’ve ever heard; it gate-crashes Beethoven’s ballpark like no other even though Herbert Blomstedt (most recently), Michael Gielen, Abbado, Furtwängler and Walter offer viably satisfying (and quite different) takes on the same piece. Then there’s the Andante con moto second movement, it’s sombre tread ideally paced, its bassline stressed but never exaggerated, its dramatic interjections always well balanced, whereas the warring brass at 8:21 never upstage the strings. At this point on so many HIP recordings of the ‘Great’ C Major the strings get a raw deal.
Like Abbado (with Orchestra Mozart, DG) Savall takes the rarely-heard repeat in the finale but while Savall drives the Scherzo into a state of abject rage – the magnificent recording leaves no detail obscured – there’s a great deal to be said for Abbado’s warmer, more lilting approach. I’m happy to alternate them. And then there’s the ‘Unfinished’ (on disc 2) with its emphatically drawn opening, powerful brass and timps and an emphatic pulse. Lyrical, yes, (again the repeat is played) but otherwise not for the faint-hearted. Savall never pulls his punches and come the Andante con moto second movement, you move into a world that’s altogether brighter, even in spite of some thunderous sudden outbursts. It’s a contrast that convinces us – for however long is anyone’s guess – that whatever this work is, it certainly isn’t unfinished. If you love these works as much as I do you simply have to hear this magnificent CD.