SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 9, 'Great' (Failoni Chamber Orchestra/ Michael Halasz) (Naxos: 8.553096)
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Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828)
Symphony No.9 in C Major, D. 944, the \Great"
Franz Schubert was born in Vienna in 1797, the son of a schoolmaster who had settled in the city some fourteen years before. He showed early musical ability, exercised in the family quartet with his father and older brothers, and in 1808 was successful in winning a place as a chorister in the Imperial Chapel, enabling him to continue his general education at the Staatskonvikt, a school of the highest prestige. It was here that he was exposed to a wider musical world and began to compose. At the Konvikt he could profit from the presence of the old Kapellmeister Salieri and broaden his practical experience by playing the violin in the student orchestra, which he sometimes led. His voice broke in 1812 and he rejected the offer of a scholarship for further study, instead entering the Normal School of St. Anna to train as an elementary teacher. In this capacity he joined his father in the school-room in 1815. The following year he was unsuccessful in an application for a position as music teacher at the Normal School in Laibach (Ljubljana) but left home to lodge instead with his friend Franz von Schober.
The remaining years of Schubert's life were spent predominantly in Vienna, more often than not in the company of friends. There were occasions when he returned briefly to teaching at his father's school, but as a composer he proved increasingly prolific, particularly in the writing of songs, welcomed among his own circle and winning him gradually a wider reputation. Some of his songs proved immediately successful, particularly through the advocacy of his friend, the singer Michael Vogl, and there were commissions for the theatre and publication of piano pieces and songs well suited to the new domestic market. His last years, however, were clouded by illness. A syphilitic infection, in those days incurable, took its intermittent course, and he died in November 1828, twenty months after the death of Beethoven. While the latter had from the first enjoyed distinguished patronage and had had an early career as a virtuoso pianist, Schubert had occupied a different position in society, part, rather, of the society of Biedermeier Vienna.
Lacking the esteem and patronage from which Beethoven had profited, Schubert published relatively little and consequently left a great deal of music to be rediscovered posthumously. His orchestral writing was clearly influenced by the repertoire of the Staatskonvikt orchestra, which included symphonies by Mozart and Haydn, as well as the earlier Beethoven symphonies. The family quartet tackled four-part versions of Haydn symphonies and the ensemble grew so that by 1815, under the leadership of the violinist Otto Hatwig, it could muster some twenty string players, as well as double woodwind and percussion, providing an orchestra for which Schubert, who played viola, wrote his earlier symphonies and overtures.
The "Great" C major Symphony marks the summit of Schubert's achievement in the form. The work was completed in the spring or summer of 1826, based on sketches made the previous summer during holidays in the Austrian countryside with Johann Michael Vogl, now considerably revised, with the conclusion added. He approached the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Philharmonic Society of Vienna) for a performance and there was a run-through later in the following year, before the idea of a public performance was postponed, owing to the length and apparent difficulty of the symphony. It was not until 1839 that the symphony was given its first public performance, on that occasion by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Mendelssohn. The Gesellschaft, to which Schubert dedicated the symphony, gave him an honorarium of a hundred florins. The work makes use of only a pair of French horns and three trombones, with the usual pairs of woodwind instruments and strings.
The slow introduction to the first movement starts with a French horn statement of the theme, then taken up by the woodwind and elaborated by the strings, before an emphatic statement of the theme and a passage accompanied by violin triplets that leads to the Allegro ma non troppo. Here the principal theme is stated with some urgency, followed by oboes and bassoons declaring an E minor secondary theme that proceeds to a G major codetta before the central development. After this further exploration of the thematic material the principal theme returns in recapitulation, followed by the secondary theme, now offered by oboes and clarinets in the tonic minor. A change to the major allows a triumphant conclusion to the movement.
The second movement, marked Andante con moto, is opened by the strings with a solemn A minor march, the melody first suggested by cellos and double basses before the entry of the oboe, later doubled by the clarinet. This is contrasted with a more lyrical melodic continuation in A major. The central section of the movement introduces a contrast of key and mood with a new melody based on a descending figure. The march returns, heralded by the French horn, in syncopation with string chords. The cellos, with a song-like version of the theme, lead to an A major version of the secondary theme. The A minor principal theme returns in conclusion.
The strings unite in the first four bars of the C major Scherzo, answered by wind instruments and timpani in a movement imbued with the spirit of Beethoven. The strongly marked opening is counterbalanced by a lyrical element that follows. Horns, joined by trombones and clarinets, introduce the A major Trio with repeated notes, with lilting thematic material, suggesting once again a song. The repetition of the Scherzo is followed by the final Allegro vivace, loudly proclaimed, an energetic theme succeeded by the swaying theme offered by oboes, clarinets and bassoons. Subtle connections with earlier movements are apparent, in rhythms, forms of melody and contrast. The music sweeps all before it, as it takes its course to a conclusion that can bear the weight of what has preceded it.
Failoni Orchestra, Budapest
The Failoni Orchestra was founded in 1981 by members of the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra. Under the leadership of the violinist Béla Nagy, the orchestra has taken part in a number of important international festivals. The orchestra takes its name from the distinguished Italian conductor Sergio Failoni, conductor of the Hungarian State Opera from 1928 until his death twenty years later.
Michael Halász's first engagement as a conductor was at the Munich Gärtnerplatz Theater, where, from 1972 to 1975, he directed all operetta productions. In 1975 he moved to Frankfurt as principal Kapellmeister under Christoph von Dohnányi, working with the most distinguished singers and conducting the most important works of the operatic repertoire. Engagements as a guest-conductor followed, and in 1977 Dohnányi took him to the Staatsoper in Hamburg as principal Kapellmeister. From 1978 to 1991 he was General Musical Director of the Hagen opera house and in 1991 he took up the post of Resident Conductor of the Vienna State Opera.