Symphony No.2 in B flat, D125
Symphony No.4 in C minor, D417 (Tragic)
Recorded in Sinfonie an der Regnitz, Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Bamberg in 2003 – on 25 & 26 March (Symphony No.2) and 18 & 19 December
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: February 2005
CD No: TUDOR 7142
Duration: 68 minutes
This is one of the first batch of Bamberg Symphony releases from the Swiss-based company, Tudor, a co-production with Bavarian Radio – normally a guarantee that the sound quality is likely to be excellent. And so it proves – open and natural sounding even when played as an ‘ordinary’ CD. Of course, this would be of little account were the performances not of comparable quality.
As anyone who was at the Bamberg Symphony’s two concerts during the 2003 Edinburgh International Festival is already well aware, the combination of Jonathan Nott and this orchestra is definitely one to watch. Still relatively unknown in the UK – one recent concert with the London Philharmonic aside – Nott has been the Bamberg Symphony’s Principal Conductor since January 2000 – it is a warm and unfailingly musical partnership.
As I discovered on a recent visit, the actual town of Bamberg, nestling up against the Czech border, is idyllic picture-postcard example of ‘old Germany’. A deep gorge with a river runs through it, and its centre is living history. Undoubtedly conducive to music-making, Bamberg is an amiable, civilised place, one where the citizens took it upon themselves to erect a plaque apologising to the Jews for what had been done to them during the Nazi dictatorship. Contrary to the modest size of the town, the orchestra enjoys a subscription of several thousand.
When so many orchestras play Schubert as if he were Beethoven, the first characteristic to notice about these performances is the relaxed and confident sense of style; the Bambergers instinctively find the right unforced tone of voice for this music. Tempos are generally unhurried, all repeats are taken – both symphonies last around 34 minutes – and the music sings naturally, aided (maybe) by Nott’s own background as a singer. Bamberg is obviously the sort of low-pressure place where things take just as long as they need to – in order to get done properly.
The second quality one notices is a palpable sense of enjoyment and relish in the playing; this is a fine orchestra at ease with itself, one which enjoys its music-making and the players’ evident pleasure communicates itself vividly to the listener. How vibrantly these musicians characterise the less tractable of Schubert’s inspirations – such as the outer movements of the Fourth Symphony, finding light and shade where others either force the pace or simply plod. Without recourse to manicured over-interpretation, these symphonies’ Andantes and Minuets are subtly varied, each finding its own distinctive personality and tone of voice.
Occasionally a performance comes along which rekindles one’s love for a piece such as Schubert’s so-called ‘Tragic’ Symphony (which I thought I had tired of). All I can report is that, far from being a chore – and having now played it several times – this one has proved an increasing pleasure. It is good news that Nott and the Bambergers are recording the complete Schubert symphony cycle since they have an obvious affinity with this agreeable music.