Imagine going to work knowing that each day will be a new artistic adventure. It's like that for the musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. For three years now, the orchestra has been building ongoing relationships with a number of artistic partners. Since the musicians themselves extend the invitation to these artists, it's really quite an honor to be asked. One of these collaborations has produced a new recording of Schubert symphonies with Scottish conductor Douglas Boyd.
Since the classical repertoire has been a staple for both Boyd and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, their working relationship was a natural marriage. Trying to capture the sound of composers like Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert can be challenging, but the orchestra pulls it off beautifully. One reason the musicians succeed is that they listen intently to one another. I think I can actually hear their attentiveness in the beginning of Schubert's Symphony No. 8.
Douglas Boyd believes the "Unfinished" Symphony is one of those miracles of civilization. You can talk about its structure, the harmony and the melodies, but to him that's not the most crucial point.
"The most important thing to get across," Boyd says, "is that composers like Beethoven and Schubert were capable of expressing every human emotion. There are elements of beauty and soothing qualities, but there are elements of terror and that's why it's more relevant today than in the 1800s."
The sharp attacks that follow the sweet melodies in Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony are like an electric shock displaying the dark side of human nature.
In this new recording, Boyd asks the strings to go easy on the vibrato, allowing their bow arms to become the main form of expression.
"Ultimately," he says, "classical repertoire is about shaping the phrase, and somewhere in the back of it there are words, there are stories."
In that sense, the title of Schubert's Symphony No. 4 may be a little misleading. The composer did give the symphony the title "Tragic" and it does have its moments of tragedy, but Boyd believes it's too varied to be summed up in one word.
"I think he was influenced by Beethoven's sense of fate or tragedy in his Fifth Symphony," Boyd says. "He chose the same key and he chose the same idea of a motif that goes through the whole symphony."
The Entr'acte from Schubert's incidental music to "Rosamunde" follows the "Tragic" Symphony on this recording. The last movement of the symphony changes from the key of c minor, a key of tragedy and darkness, to C major, a key of triumph and joy. But does it really end in triumph? Schubert throws in three pile-driving notes at the end. Boyd finds them slightly unsettling. That's why he and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra put Schubert's "Rosamunde" at the end of the recording. Its sweet tenderness adds a sense of resolution, making it a nice encore.
Listening to this new recording of Schubert symphonies and incidental music from "Rosamunde," I can certainly tell that the members of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra love going to work every day. Their fine musicianship comes through in their bold, unified sound and the soloists are outstanding. Their growing relationship with Artistic Partner Douglas Boyd should continue to produce positive results; they've invited him back for another three seasons.