Schubert/Berio review – casting light on each other's magic

Solistes Européens, Luxembourg /Christoph König

(Rubicon)

Schubert left more than one unfinished symphony. Alongside the famous Eighth, there’s the abandoned Seventh, and a Tenth, which he was working on the year he died. The Tenth survives as piano sketches, and musicologists have not been able to resist the temptation to make completions. But for all his erudition, Luciano Berio thought as a composer, not a musicologist, and his 1989 work Rendering – paired on this new recording by conductor Christoph König and his Solistes Européens with Schubert’s last completed symphony, No 9, nicknamed “the Great” – is no completion but a three-movement symphony that’s almost as much his as Schubert’s.

Berio treats the sketches like frescoes; he “restores” them, orchestrating them as Schubert might have done, and then pastes over the gaps with music that is unambiguously his own. Often the doorbell-like sound of the celesta lets us know Berio is waiting to come in – this anachronistic instrument is used only in Berio’s own passages, where mists descend and it is as if the harmonies and timbres have been distorted through some intricately frosted glass. The pulse remains, however, and you can always hear Schubert’s footfall behind Berio’s music.

König and his orchestra are following on from their disc last year of Beethoven’s Eroica and the Symphony No 1 by Méhul: again, they offer a juxtaposition of a less familiar work with a contemporary symphonic warhorse, each casting light on the other. Hearing Berio’s reinterpretation of Schubert’s Tenth alongside the Ninth makes clear the two symphonies’ potential similarities – in scope, and much more besides. König’s interpretation of Schubert’s “Great” Symphony No 9 doesn’t have quite the spaciousness of this work’s greatest recordings, but it has style and spirit – especially in the third movement, here a swaying, rollicking dance in which every section of the orchestra gets invited on to the floor. It all makes for enjoyable and revealing listening.

This week’s other picks

On the subject of hearing a familiar composer’s voice slightly altered: also out this week is a CD from Thomas Dunford that takes music written by JS Bach for solo cello or violin into the honeyed, rarefied sound-world of the lute, in arrangements by Dunford or by Bach himself. One might miss the bow-on-string rasp of the originals, especially when the original is as intense and technically challenging as the D Minor Violin Chaconne – but there are gains too, with Dunford making every single line sing.

Contributor

Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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