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A Schubert Symphony Cycle to Savor - Jan Willem de Vriend

12-10-2021 | By Rushton Paul | Issue 118

Jan Willem de Vriend and the Residentie Orkest The Hague give us a symphony cycle to savor, the symphonies of Franz Schubert in glorious high resolution audio. This is a great cycle of the complete symphonies, with one more volume to come. Highly recommended.

Schubert, The Complete Symphonies, Volumes 1-3, Jan Willem de Vriend, Residentie Orkest The Hague. Challenge Classics | Northstar Recording 2018, 2019, 2020 (DXD) HERE

With the release of Volume 3 in his cycle of the complete symphonies of Franz Schubert, de Vriend continues to deliver solidly on the promise so evident from Volume 1, released in 2018. We are now missing only the Symphonies 5 and 6, which I hope we will see before long to complete the cycle.

All of these symphonies are delivered with great style, alert liveliness, and excellent ensemble by de Vriend and the Residentie Orkest.

I love the lightness and liveliness that imbues their performance of Symphony No. 1—it so perfectly meets my expectations of what this symphony is about. To a great extent, I enjoy the first symphony most of all of Schubert's symphonies. There is something just exactly right that Schubert captures within it. And, it's fun. And de Vriend and company present all of this in the most enjoyable manner.

Symphony No. 3 follows No. 1 in Volume 2 of the cycle. I was recently relistening and allowed the third to roll along right behind the conclusion to the first, and I was struck by the perfectly natural fit of the two symphonies and the performances here. Oh, the music is different, of course. But the playing style, the energy, the humor, the sound field of the recording, are as one, all of a single fabric. The consistency is most satisfying.

Jan Willem de Vriend and Residentie Orkest The Hague, recording session for the Schumann symphonies.

As I relisten to this album, what I am struck by is how well suited the sound of this orchestra is to the music of Schubert. It is a large orchestra, but it's sound is light, lively, lithe, full of grace and energy. Their playing is buoyant, uplifting. This is the Classical Schubert of 1812-1815, the Schubert who admired Mozart and Haydn. There is no ponderous self-importance weighing down upon us under the hand of maestro de Vriend.

But in this same Volume 2, de Vriend and Residentie Orkest include the first two movements of Symphony No. 8, the Unfinished Symphony, begun in 1822. It is with this work that we hear true weight and a full-throated roar of an orchestra of the Romantic tradition. It blows in as if from another planet. Clearly, de Vriend and Residentie Orkest are fully capable of presenting the full range of Schubert's expression over his all too brief composing career.

So, if you are looking for just a single volume from this cycle to sample, I suggest Volume 2 as a good starting point.

Volume 1 contains Symphonies 2 and 4 in shapely, engaging performances. Well recorded and performed with a good deal of panache and certainly no fussiness.

Volume 3 contains the mighty Symphony No. 9, "The Great," in a powerful, very direct performance, while still retaining that lithe flexibility that is so evident in performances of the earlier symphonies.

In all three volumes, de Vriend has been consistent in shaping the Residentie Orkest's presentation of Schubert: a large orchestra with modern instruments, performing with minimal vibrato and a sinewy lithe energy as they virtually dance with the melodies in these symphonies.

Independent producer and recording engineer Bert van der Wolf, in his studio. Photo by Brendon Heinst.

I'm listening to the 24-352.8 DXD downloads of these albums. This is the original format in which they were recorded for Challenge Classics by Bert van der Wolf of Northstar Recording.

As I've noted in some earlier articles, Bert reserves the rights to sell through his own website the highest resolution file from any of the recordings he makes. So, while you can purchase the Challenge Classic renders, nothing exceeds the sonic bliss of listening to these edit masters in the original recorded format. HERE

Bert van der Wolf is one of the several outstanding recording engineers working today whose work I regularly follow. What I love about his recordings is his ability to capture both the live acoustical space in which the artists are performing and create an exceptionally natural and aurally realistic replica of that performance. His are recordings with which I can easily suspend my disbelief and fall completely into the musical event.

I look forward to sharing comments on more of Bert's recordings. Whether of full orchestra or small ensemble, or a single performer, they are indeed very special. Here are some samples to come:

Images courtesy of Bert van der Wolf and Northstar Recording.