Bruckner's 2nd, Schubert's 7th, 8th or 9th

Orchestre de l'Opéra national de Paris. Philippe Jordan, conductor.
  • Anton Bruckner: Symphony n°2 in C minor
  • Franz Schubert: Symphony n°8 in C major ("Great"), D 944.

From Wikipedia, re the Scuthbert: "There continues to be some controversy over the numbering of this symphony, with German-speaking scholars sometimes numbering it as symphony No. 7, the most recent version of the Deutsch catalog (the standard catalogue of Schubert's works, compiled by Otto Erich Deutsch) listing it as No. 8, and English-speaking scholars often listing it as No. 9".

I had no idea. I thought the "8" on the Paris Opera's website was a mistake, and I wasn't the only ignoramus in town...

Over the past few years I've got out of the habit of booking orchestral concerts (that will change next season). But when I did, living in France my policy was to book for big-name visiting orchestras, preferably with a relatively modern programme. Why? Because France has no orchestra performing consistently at the highest international standard – “consistently” being the operative word, as France’s orchestras, like her footballers, are capable of winning world championships, but not often and you can never predict when. And then, wrong though I may be, I'm no longer particularly interested in hearing pre-20th century works played by slick modern orchestras.

The reason, therefore, that I was at this Bruckner-and-Schubert concert at the Paris Opera was simply that the tickets were a present, i.e. free. It was nice to be able to hear Bruckner's 2nd, and very nice to hear Schubert’s “Great” (whatever the number may be) after all these years. And both were very capably played.

But, typically of French orchestras, the Paris Opera strings can’t sustain as you (and Philippe Jordan too, perhaps, as he seemed to be gesturing for it) might like in Bruckner - they rarely use all of the bow - the brass don't come across with massed, chorale-like depth, the horns sometimes crack, and the inner detail of the score can seem hazy. The performance was robust but not spine-tingling.

Perhaps Schubert is a better bet for a French band. But Jordan might have dismissed a desk or two from his strings: I thought the playing was too loud too often. Overall, for Schubert, it lacked delicacy - and Schubertian mystery.

As is often the case in France, in both works the woodwind were best by far and deserved the extra applause they got. My companions were very happy, and the rest of the audience liked the whole evening so much they clapped after every movement. So I suppose it’s bitter and stupid of me, once more, to say I’d rather have had the VPO for the Bruckner and something much more HIP for the Schubert, not the bland sounds of a modern opera orchestra.


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