In 2002 the now-late-lamented Claudio Abbado recorded Schubert’s ‘Great C-major’ Symphony, also for DG, with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. This new account, with Orchestra Mozart, derives from concerts (which also featured Maria João Pires in Mozart’s Piano Concertos K466 and K595, previously coupled together by DG) and has all repeats observed. The result, beautifully recorded, is so fresh and so well-paced that the very idea of monotony – a word sometimes, and erroneously, conferred on the piece – never enters the mind. Few readings of Schubert 9 so perfectly demonstrate how appropriate is the famous description of “heavenly length”.
The tone is set by the winsome opening, heightened by the bloom of the solo horn; and as the movement expands, through the repeat and the development section, a plethora of the most delectable playing can be relished, woodwinds and strings notably, the latter being particularly rich-toned. Abbado builds the first movement with the surest of hands, grandeur and intimacy in close proximity as the music strides towards its gloriously uplifting peroration with an unarguable sense of inevitability.
The opening of the Andante con moto is very attractive, a gentle and amiable stroll in the countryside, and then beauty and energy alternate amidst an array of exquisite contributions from Orchestra Mozart, not least from the cellos at 9’46 onwards where the music seems to hang in the air, timelessly. The Scherzo (with delightful timpani and bassoon detailing) is as vigorous and joyful as it demands and the Trio is entrancing. The Finale is really snappy and carries us along as upon giant waves surging towards the shoreline. This is infectious stuff – relieved by gentler passages full of balm – and the progression towards the ebullient close is judged to perfection.
I never before enjoyed this Symphony so much. In his final years, Claudio Abbado was blessed with a wonderfully heightened sensibility and here he has bequeathed us something altogether special.