Readers of Erik Levi’s Building a Library (September) may be interested in an aside on a version of Schubert’s ‘Great’ C major Symphony in the ‘great recordings’. Nikolaus Harnoncourt, with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, interprets Schubert’s marking on the symphony’s last note as a diminuendo, not an accent. To make this work he has to extend that last note to twice its written length – and he disguises that (in advance) by slowing the tempo to lengthen the rests between the two previous chords. Schubert wrote no ritardando here, any more than he asked for an accelerando
at the end of the first movement’s introduction into the Allegro, thus surely confirming uniformity of pulse with the foregoing Andante.
He was also punctilious in indicating the precise length of his last notes – to the extent of adding three empty bars’ rest after the last note of his Sixth Symphony.
Harnoncourt is not the first conductor to treat the last note of the ‘Great’ as he does. But the fact that he has to take a double liberty with the notated score calls into question what is in any event a weak outcome that fails to justify itself as an applied effect. Otherwise, it’s a good recording!