Columbus Symphony This Weekend: Schubert 9!

Nareh Arghamanyan, pianist, coming to town for Tchaikovsky's 1st Piano concerto and the CSO.(Photo: CSO)
Nareh Arghamanyan, pianist, coming to town for Tchaikovsky's 1st Piano concerto and the CSO.(Photo: CSO)

The Columbus Symphony begins the season of subscription classical concerts this weekend with performances of Schubert’s ” Great” Symphony, the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 and Rossini’s Overture to William Tell*. The pianist is a young Armenian dynamo (dynama?) named Nareh Armaghanyan. Jean Marie Zeitouni conducts.

There are two ways to hear this concert. Show up in person-always wonderful. AND/OR Hear it as the “Opening Day” of Classical 101′s new Columbus Symphony series on spring time Sunday afternoons.  Ideally, do both.

I’m immersed all this week in the Schubert. For years, this was thought to be Schubert’s valedictory. A large (‘great’) full-fledged symphony in the manner of Beethoven-a thunderous race to the finish line, completed a few months before the composer’s death in 1828. Performances were given accordingly, with reverence, drama, and a hint of tragedy. And great performances they are, not to be missed: Karajan with the Berlin Philharmonic, Klemperer and the Philharmonia, James Levine in Chicago, all the way back to Richard Strauss and Furtwangler in the 1940s.

Furtwangler’s tempi and the weight of his interpretation were of the period. The silences are telling, like the rest around :25 in the above clip before the first chords. Such a performance was intended to give Schubert the “size counts” importance, and to move him up to be Beethoven’s heir. Schubert didn’t need to be Beethoven’s heir. Schubert wanted to move past Beethoven, to combine melody with drama in ways more obvious than those used by Mozart and Beethoven. Mozart cared how his listeners liked his music. Beethoven didn’t. Schubert did, but wanted more than love. He wanted to be heard.

We know now that the Symphony 9 was actually completed in early 1826-a good period for the composer. Concert tours with his friend Michael Vogl were sending both names across Europe. The days of the smoky Viennese coffee houses were nearing an end. Schubert was “arriving”. This was not a work looking backward with melancholy, but looking forward with expectation.

For years, I had no time for Frans Bruggen or Roger Norrington and the HIP (historically informed performance) movement.  Bach Passions with straight-toned choirs and out-of-tune winds? Please. My loss, since I’m riveted to Norrington’s recording of Schubert’s 9. HERE is the mix of texture, invoking not so much Beethoven but Rossini. This is power with charm. The texture is ingratiating because, following Schubert’s score, you can hear what is going on. The transparency is refreshing and makes the 9th not just great, but entertaining and great. You can shake your fist at the gods, and you can sing, too.

I suspect Mr. Zeitouni and our neighbors in Columbus will give us music fit for an opening night in a great space, to be admired and enjoyed.


**Yes, about William Tell. I like the Lone Ranger as much as the next guy. But the first 8 minutes of this overture, pre-Ranger, is a gorgeous mini cello concerto. Luis Biava will plays this wonderfully.