GREAT LIB­ER­TIES

BBC Music Magazine - - LETTERS - Brian New­bould, East York­shire

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!

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