In Washington D.C. in recent years, there has been an annual three-day series of concerts titled, "Schubert, Schubert, Schubert" featuring, of course, the works of the great Vienesse composer. The concerts are offered to appeal to new music lovers. The cost is low, and those patrons who state that they have never before attended a classical music concert get admitted free. It is a worthy event.
This 12 CD compilation of Schubert reminds me of the concert series in its elan, appeal, and accessibility. At a price of less than $35 this set is indeed a gift. The set consists of the complete (8) Schubert symphonies, the final three string quartets, including the "Death and the Maiden", the string quintet in C, the song cycles "Winterreise" and "Die Schone Mullerin", and six piano sonatas. The works are on the whole beautifully performed. There is no better way to acquire a great deal of Schubert at one swooop for a low price.
Schubert's 8 symphonies (the last one is referred to as no. 9, but there is no no. 7) are mostly early works, but they include three masterpieces: nos. 5, 8(the "Unfinished), and 9 (the "Great). The remaining symphonies all are pleasant and include lovely moments. I enjoy the slow movement of no. 2, and the finales of nos. 3 and 6 for starts. This compilation features period recordings from the 1970s by the Hanover Band conducted by Roy Goodman. It is an excellent set which will serve most listeners well. (I would suggest acquiring an additional version of the Ninth. I reecommend Furtwangler or Klemperer.)
Schubert's three last string quartets are masterworks and beautifully performed here by the Chilingrin String Quartet. These recordings will stand with any, regardless of price. I enjoyed especially the final quartet, No. 15 in G major. This is a lyrical but surprisingly difficult work which will reward repeated listening.
The set also includes Schubert's greatest chamber work, the String Quintet in C performed by the Brandis Quartet with Win-Sinn Yang, cello. Many listeners regard this as Schubert's greatest work. It ranks among the most moving works of chamber music ever composed.
The disk includes Schubert's two great song cycles, "Winter's Journey" and "The Miller's Lovely Daughter" perfomed by Shura Gehrman. Mr. Gehrman was the founder of Nimbus records and he sings with force. These performances will appeal to those who love and who collect versions of the song-cycles, particularly Winterreise. Unfortunately, texts and translations of Muller's poems are are not provided.
The compilation concludes with a well-chosen selection of Schubert's piano sonatas performed by Marta Deyanova. The selections include the final sonata in B-flat major, the G-major sonata, D. 878, the familiar sonata in A-major, and three lesser-known incomplete works. I have read criticisms of Ms. Deyanova's performances based largely on the slow tempos she adopts in some of these works. I think the criticisms unfounded. In particular, the G major sonata is one of the most reflective, lyrical works in the piano repertory. Ms. Deyanova takes the opening movement very slowly and includes the repeat, but I found the performance of this difficult music compelling and moving. I also thought she did extremely well with the B-flat major sonata.
It is difficult to go wrong with this set at the price. The program notes are sparse and inadequate and, as I noted, there are no texts or translations for the song cycles. But the collection should inspire the listener to find out more.
The most obvious appeal of this set will be to the lover of Schubert on a tight budget or, perhaps, to the new listener who wants to explore. But the lover of Schubert will want several components of this set for themselves. Many will enjoy having unusual performances of the song cycles and the quartet and quintet playing are first rate. Although there are those who may disagree, I loved Ms Deyanova's piano playing, especially of the great sonata in G-major which remains unfamiliar to many listeners.
This set includes nearly 13 hours of inexhaustible music.