Great Romantic Symphonies

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The word ‘symphony’ is used to describe an extended orchestral composition in Western classical music. By the eighteenth century the Italianate opera sinfonia—musical interludes between...
The word ‘symphony’ is used to describe an extended orchestral composition in Western classical music. By the eighteenth century the Italianate opera sinfonia—musical interludes between operas or concertos—had assumed the structure of three contrasting movements, and it is this form that is often considered as the direct forerunner of the orchestral symphony. With the rise of established professional orchestras, the symphony assumed a more prominent place in concert life between 1790 and 1820 until it eventually came to be regarded by many as the yardstick by which one would measure a composer’s achievement.

The nineteenth century brought various changes to the symphonic form. Although both inspired by Beethoven, Berlioz’s experiments with instrumental colour and orchestral size are a world away from the colossal symphonies of Brahms. Composers such as Mahler and Bruckner pushed the traditional symphonic landscapes to their limits, in sharp contrast to the uplifting Classically based symphonies of Mendelssohn and Schubert. The nationalistic flavours apparent in the programme symphonies of Schumann, Strauss and Dvo?ák exemplify the way in which the symphonic form flourished in the Romantic era, whilst the visceral impact of the Gallic panache is typified by the symphonies of Franck and Saint-Saëns.

Reviews of some of the original recordings that make up this set:

Mahler: Symphony no 1
"This fast, bold, vigorous, youthful, if occasionally overdriven, First marks Michael Halász's first appearance in Naxos's Mahler cycle. Overall, it's an auspicious debut. Halász pushes the opening pages a bit too hard, but once the transition to the Ging heut 'Morgen über's Feld theme arrives, the performance blooms. Characterized by strong, firm rhythmic underpinning, the theme itself is beautifully done, and the return to the slower music is suitably moody and misty. Faster than most, the coda is both effective and exciting. A heady combination of fast tempos, propulsive impetus, and gutsy playing by the PNRSO makes for a second movement that is absolutely ' 'Kräftig bewegt!“ (strongly moving). Sample, for instance, the conclusion of the first scherzo section. Only the too-quick, too-straightforward, go-easy-on-the-parody third movement is weak: most notably the Jewish band sequence and the rather abrupt shift to Die zwei blauen Augen. What seemed excessive in the slow movement, however, works very well in the finale. After 1:30 Halász picks up the pace, and despite some rhythmic rigidity around 8:30, there is much to get the juices flowing. The slow section prior to the reprise of material from the first movement is done very well as Halász lets the music breathe. If slightly less grandiose than Bernstein/DG or Küblik, the finale is still rousing. Including Blumine now seems to be S.O.P.; Halász takes it in a zippy 7:32, so it is never cloying or sappy.

Warm, rich, full sound from Naxos, with a wide and astonishingly deep soundstage. The minute gradations between the “distant“ and “in further distance“ trumpets near the beginning of the first movement is clearly, accurately, and admirably audible."

-- Benjamin Pernick, Fanfare

Schubert: Symphony no 9
Michael Halász conquers this symphonic Everest with a little-known Budapest band who consistently excel and frequently astonish. For vintage aficionados, this Naxos performance will rekindle memories of the days when Walter, Krips, Furtwängler, Toscanini, and others bestrode the catalogs, forging patrician Ninths of intellectual ferocity and mathematical exactitude; consider the transition from horn-invoked introduction to first-movement Allegro exposition—a tricky maneuver that often dictates the character of a given interpretation at an early stage. Halász knows exactly how to propel and mold this music; granted, the Failoni horns don't announce the work with the pristine gravity of their Berlin or Vienna counterparts, but they give notice of an awesomely reverential pilgrimage to follow. The exposition is splendidly considered and brilliantly executed; note the pianissimo trombone reminiscences of the opening, and logical gear change into the second subject. The coda evolves imperiously from an atmosphere of palpably explosive restraint, again re-inforcing the architectural triumph of Schubert's conception, and the strengths of Halász's long-term management of tempos which, throughout the work, never cease to impress.

Tovey found in the desolate oboe melody of the Andante “a heart-breaking show of spirit in adversity.“ Halász's Failoni soloist enunciates this irredeemably tragic melody with plangent, understated eloquence, over a hushed tread of cellos and basses. The earlier Naxos account from Alexander Rahbari and the BRT Philharmonic reached a self-pitying nadir in this movement; Halász is exemplary, and I wondered if he'd used Günter Wand's RCA version with the NDR Symphony as a reference point. Halász imparts chilling, foreboding emphasis to the transitional passage at around bar 148, and his horn alarums, rife with tortured apprehension, become fearful harbingers of the cataclysmic forces unleashed at the climax of the movement. It's an undeniably compelling, and deeply unsettling, reading of a great and terrible musical exegesis. Like the best traversais of D. 944, this is a performance that takes us from the heights to the depths and then, in the Scherzo, back to the world again. It's a rugged, titanically extrovert affair, ideally scaled down to allow the exuberant trio to register as it should, while preserving the same basic tempo. The Failoni winds have an attractively rustic timbre, and Halász overturns Tovey's notion that this Trio could only reveal Schubert's intentions when the wind parts were doubled in performance, enabling accompanying string figures to register at reasonable volume. The finale is electrifying; these Hungarian players don't possess the sonic opulence of the world's crack virtuoso ensembles, but very few of the best rival the sheer verve and drama of their playing. To that extent, comparison seems wholly irrelevant and not a little carping, though Solti's outstanding London performance on Decca/London and the aforementioned RCA version from Günter Wand both illuminate the profundity of the Ninth with supreme acuity. Purists will find period-instrument accounts from Norrington and Mackerras indispensable, though for a thoroughgoing, and frequently masterful, reading of this Elysian symphony, and at bargain price, you've very little to lose and much to gain with Halász. Sound, too, is of high quality.

-- Michael Jameson, Fanfare

Bruckner: Symphony no 4
When my Fanfare colleague Robert McColley interviewed octogenarian Bruckner acolyte Georg Tintner in these pages (Fanfare 21:1), many components of the conductor's integral Bruckner cycle for Naxos had already been committed to DAT. Although at that time only Symphony No. 5 had been released, No. 6 had been taped in New Zealand (by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra), No. "0" ("Die Nullte") and Nos. 2 and 8 had been recorded in Dublin by Ireland's National Symphony, and, in Glasgow, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra had set down the Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, and Ninth symphonies, with only the latter still awaiting release at the time of writing this review. Back in 1997, Tintner had also to preserve his thoughts on the rarely performed "Study" Symphony (No. 00), and Nos. 1 and 3, again in collaboration with the RSNO, and indeed those sessions may already now have taken place.


In fact, the Tintner Bruckner series for Naxos has gained incredibly in stature following a somewhat shaky start, with a pretty lackluster and uninspiring account (in the view qf this writer) of the Fifth. It was evident that orchestra and conductor were still forging a more productive alliance at that point, but while Tintner's series has peaked so far with his masterful account of No. 8 (1887 first version, ed. Nowak), recent performances from Scotland have also impressed for a wide variety of reasons. Indeed, you'll almost certainly have difficulty in tracking down a more naturally paced and idiomatically felt reading of No. 4 than this newcomer. Tintner's love and reverence for the work and its creator shine forth powerfully in virtually every measure of this leonine, surefooted account.


What registers time and again with Tintner isn't so much the calculated grand gesture (though there are enough great moments in this reading to repay repeated and demanding scrutiny) as the selfless, utterly natural way in which he navigates his way through this score. Tintner is far less concerned here with subjective realization of Bruckner's own misplaced pictorialism; he understands the ebb and flow of this symphony so well that, frankly, the last thing he needs is a series of quasi-programmatic props (Bruckner's misty forest dawns, etc., notwithstanding) on which to hang his own deeply personal interpretation of the work. In every sense, this is a lovingly crafted, benevolent, and visionary performance, never the vast heroic pageant that Karajan or Wand make it, but altogether gentler and more reflective, even enigmatic, especially in the Andante.


Don't take my word for it—at Naxos's bargain price you can afford to take a chance anyhow— but hear for yourself this wonderfully compelling exegesis. I should also add that Tintner manages to convince his players that his is the right way. And if their response doesn't quite measure up to what you'd expect of the world's great Bruckner orchestras, the RSNO turns in a thoroughly creditable performance that has been tastefully engineered by producer Tim Handley at the orchestra's Glasgow rehearsal venue, Henry Wood Hall, a warm-sounding converted church. In sum, an excellent budget Bruckner Fourth that should commend itself as much to Brucknerians who already have a wide range of recordings of this work on their shelves as to entry-level enthusiasts seeking a genuine bargain.   

-- Michael Jameson, Fanfare

Complete Review:

This 10-disc set contains the following works: Strauss’ Alpine Symphony (Wit) and Don Juan (Kosler); Dvorák’s “New World” and Symphonic Variations (Gunzenhauser); Saint-Saëns’ “Organ” Symphony (Gunzenhauser) and Franck’s D minor (Benzi); Bruckner’s Fourth (Tintner); Mahler’s First (Halász); Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and the Roman Carnival and Benvenuto Cellini Overtures (Talmi); Mendelssohn’s Third and Fourth Symphonies (Seifried); Brahms’ First and Fourth Symphonies (Rahbari); Schumann’s First and Fourth Symphonies (Wit); and Schubert’s Eighth and Ninth (Halász). The best performances are the works by Dvorák, Mendelssohn, Bruckner, Frank, and anything conducted by Antoni Wit. Some of the others come from Naxos’ early days and don’t reflect the higher quality of subsequent productions. Still, the selection is intelligent and it comes with a nicely produced booklet. Not a bad deal if you want these particular works in an inexpensive box.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com


Product Description:


  • Release Date: April 24, 2012


  • UPC: 730099105743


  • Catalog Number: 8501057


  • Label: Naxos


  • Number of Discs: 10


  • Period: ""


  • Composer: Anton Bruckner, Antonín Dvořák, Camille Saint-Saëns, César Franck, Felix Mendelssohn, Franz Schubert, Gustav Mahler, Hector Berlioz, Johannes Brahms, Richard Strauss, Robert Schumann


  • Conductor: Alexander Rahbari, Antoni Wit, Georg Tintner, Michael Halász, Reinhard Seifried, Roberto Benzi, Stephen Gunzenhauser, Yoav Talmi


  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra, Brussels Belgian Radio & TV Philharmonic Orchestra, Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Failoni Orchestra Budapest, Katowice Polish Radio/TV Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra Katowice, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, San Diego Symphony Orchestra, Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra, Staatskapelle Weimar


  • Performer: Imrich Szabo, Sidney Green