Schubert Symphony No 9 review | Erica Jeal's classical album of the week

Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev inspires the SCO in Schubert’s massive work, with grandeur and great washes of feeling

This autumn, Maxim Emelyanychev took up his new post as the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s principal conductor. If the appointment of the 30-year-old from Nizhny Novgorod – best newcomer at the 2019 international opera awards, and equally at home at Glyndebourne or in Teodor Currentzis’s iconoclastic Perm theatre – seemed like a good one on paper, then it appears positively inspired now that their first recording together has been released.

Franz Schubert: Symphony No 9 in C Major album art work
Franz Schubert: Symphony No 9 in C Major album art work Photograph: Publicity Image

This is an orchestra that has long punched above its weight in the classical symphonic repertoire – its Beethoven symphonies with Charles Mackerras remain some of the best recordings out there. The playing, all burbling, characterful woodwinds and straight-toned yet silky strings, is impeccable. Emelyanychev takes this and shapes a performance of Schubert’s colossal ninth symphony that flies by. Each of Schubert’s four movements is underpinned by constant, obsessive rhythmic patterns; in a bad performance you hear every note. Here, though, they are a happily purring motor powering an exhilaratingly swift and largely smooth ride.

An irresistible sense of motion underpins everything, so the music is always hurtling unstoppably towards some out-of-sight destination, but on top of that the melodies glide by in great, song-like exhalations. The transition from the steady introduction to the fast main theme of the first movement is brilliantly done – just a nudge on the accelerator here, a push forward there, and we are flying along before we have realised what is happening. Corners such as this are so smoothly turned that the few moments where Schubert wants us to fear the wheels coming off are even more tense: as the second movement grinds towards its climax, and the harmonies crunch ever more tightly, there’s a feeling that anything could happen. This recording has no self-consciousness, nothing to suggest a conductor craving our attention – just a performance that captures the joy, grandeur and extremes of feeling in this symphony, without seeming to try.

Also out this week

There’s a reminder of Emelyanychev’s baroque opera credentials as he directs Facce d’Amore, the new disc by rising star countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński, a recital full of dramatic immediacy. Meanwhile, returning to the bubbling symphonic cauldron that was the 1820s, the new recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 by Masaaki Suzuki and his Bach Collegium Japan is an enjoyably forceful, at times properly stormy performance that is let down only by some of the choral tuning in the final movement.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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