TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 29 October 2012
This is now the tenth Great C Major in my collection, and in many ways I think it the best of them. It gives me something I have been looking for ever since I opened this collection with Krips and the Concertgebouw, namely all or nearly all Krips's special excellence without a couple of things in his performance that annoy me.
What was particularly to my liking about Krips was the rightness of his tempi, as it seemed to me, in the first two movements and also in the finale, although nobody that I know goes off the rails there. Wand gives me the same reaction: the opening andante is exactly my idea of it, and the main allegro non troppo is at least in the right ballpark. To my inexpressible delight Wand, like Krips, does not make the exposition repeat in the allegro, but he does make a ritardando for the second subject. This is the way most critics seem to like it, and although for years I took the side of Krips (and Mackerras) in keeping the speed steady (because the first and second subjects occur later in counterpoint so they have to be at the same speed at that point at least) I am less fixed in my ideas about the matter now. One thing he does that is new to me and that convinces me completely is right at the end of the first movement. This coda is pure operetta in idiom, and at a faster speed than before, until the tone suddenly becomes solemn and the melody of the andante returns fortissimo. A rigid beat here, Mackerras-style, seems wrong, but an abrupt slamming-on of the brakes is hard to bring off too. Wand applies his slowing a few bars before, and I was left with the question `Why did nobody think of that before?' And he does even better: Schubert revised and thickened the scoring, which Tovey thought obscured the melody. Well, Schubert meant something by it, and if the woodwind are good enough they can be heard blowing their lungs out through the violins giving it the full works. It sounds terrific - thankyou the Berlin Phil.
This is a symphony full of great moments, and Wand seems to me to rise to them. Indeed, I have not the space to try to list innumerable touches of sensitive and flexible phrasing, but I should mention the famous pianissimo trombone sequence, especially as Wand takes the final `fff' for full orchestra following it at face value. It needs the right orchestra to bring that off without making an ugly noise, but we have the right orchestra. Also try if you will the solemn hushed return to the main allegro theme - awestruck and awe-inspiring. It's Krips revisited again in the slow movement, not just the tempo but also the way the second note of the tune is played. Schubert writes it as an acciaccatura for an obvious reason - if he wrote it as a demisemiquaver preceded by three dots he would be asking for trouble with what copyists might do. However a demisemiquaver is the value it should be given. Krips knew that and Wand knows that, although nobody else seems to.
Time to make reference to Rattle, with the same orchestra of course. This is a performance in a very special category, but Wand, after starting the slow movement in the Krips fashion, ends it rather in the way Rattle does. The music makes what Tovey so brilliantly called a `display of spirit in adversity' until it almost dies on its feet by the last bars. Rattle has his own special concept of the symphony as a whole, with a shadow over the music that reminds us that this was the young composer's last year of life. Wand is more `mainstream', but he senses the shadow too. He keeps it at arm's length in the scherzo, and this is where he is hugely superior to Krips, but in the trio section his affinity with Rattle comes to the fore again. Tovey called this trio `one of the greatest and most exhilarating tunes in the world': I call it the hurdy-gurdy from heaven itself. It doesn't do to overwork the term `literally', but I'm almost inclined to insist on it here. Wand is not quite Rattle's equal at this point, but he is in the same league, and as at the end of the first movement he is not afraid to give the violins their head. The woodwinds do not have to struggle this time, but they don't need, and don't get, highlighting. Krips omits all repeats in this movement, and from him I don't miss them. Wand and Rattle give us the first but not the second repeat in the main scherzo, which is how I like it best. However in the trio Rattle repeats both sections, and it could have gone on for ever as far as I am concerned. Wand makes the first repeat only, but I would have liked the second from him as well.
I'm not sure that anyone has ever done the extraordinary finale as well as Krips, but there's not a lot in it. In particular that amazing tune comes over in a completely special way, with the `beat' on the violins hushed but oddly prominent. It makes the hair of my flesh stand up, but sadly I suspect the engineers had a lot to do with the effect. I sense that Wand's version is as good as I'm going to get now. One can't have everything, and I can trade this point for being spared some unaccountable hustling of the beat that Krips applies in the two andantes, above all to the fantastic horn notes preparing for the return of the main melody in the slow movement. This is, for me, the greatest of all symphonies, and this may be as near as I am going to get to my ideal performance of it.