Schubert & Mendelssohn: Symphonies
Symphony No.8 B Minor "The Unfinished"
Symphony No.3 A Minor Op. 56 "Scottish"
performed by the New Symphony Orchestra Sofia.
Conductor: Petko Dimitrov.
A concert recording from the
National Palace of Culture in Sofia (Bulgaria)
CD · DDD · c. 64 Minutes
The members of the New Symphony Orchestra, drawn from the Sofia Radio Orchestra, are a comparatively young ensemble founded in 1971. The writer of the insert-note suggests that their musical style is "sentimental, due to the members' experience recording film music". Sorry, but there is no trace of sentimentality in either performance. Instead, here is a superb example of the intense concentration that can come with live musicmaking from eager young players, well rehearsed, in front of a receptive audience.
In the Scottish Symphony, the character of the playing combines an effervescing vitality and a natural Slavonic warmth, particularly from the full-toned strings. Petko Dimitrov shapes Mendelssohn's lovely lyrical opening with an appealing simplicity, and in the first climax of the vivace of the exposition his surge of animation has the players all but scampering in their exhilaration. The one snag is that the important exposition repeat is, alas, omitted. The scherzo sparkles, the slow movement is beautifully shaped yet has a sombre underlay which prevents any suggestion of blandness, and after the dancing vivacissimo the close of the finale is expansive, almost Klemperer-like in its spacious grandeur. Overall, a performance of much character.
Schubert's Unfinished is even finer, the epitome of Romanticism, the quiet opening mysterious, darkly evocative, yet with incisive drama soon to offset the lyricism. Here the exposition repeat is played, and used to build an onward propulsion which is very compelling. Dimitrov's modest change of pace for the exquisitely gentle opening of the second movement is perfectly judged, and the arrival of the secondary theme is beautifully prepared by the violins. The woodwind contributions, first the clarinet (2'06'') and the naturally following, equally delicate oboe (2'36'') are almost like a question and answer, before the drama of the bold trombone-dominated tutti (2'56'') which is arresting without being coarse.
But it is the gently ruminative quality of the playing - of wind and strings alike - that makes this performance so memorable. The interplay between apparent serenity and the music's bolder progress is like a contrast between twilight apprehension and the daylight assertion of life's irrepressible advance, with a haunting sense of resignation conveyed in the movement's guileless closing bars. The concert hall recording was made in simple 'two-track stereo' and the effect is real, slightly distanced, but tangible. Most rewarding.