“As much as I appreciate Schubert’s songs, I appreciate his instrumental works even more,” Antonín Dvořák once said: “If all his compositions were destroyed except for two, save the last two symphonies.” This was an astonishing statement by Dvořák, who even in his lifetime was recognised as one of the great symphonic composers of his time. After all, Franz Schubert had not been regarded as a master of symphonic compositions for very long – and certainly not during his short, 31-year-long life. This explains why Schubert’s last two symphonies referred to by Dvořák were only performed long after the death of their creator: the C major Symphony D 944, for example, written in 1825-1826, which Robert Schumann compared to a “thick novel in four volumes”, did not receive its first historically documented performance until 1839 in a concert conducted by Felix Mendelssohn at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. At a stroke, posterity understood that Schubert, who had hitherto been known above all as the “Prince of Song” and as a composer of piano and chamber music, was also a first-rate symphonist – an acknowledgement that came about a quarter of a century later with the discovery of Schubert’s two-movement Symphony in B minor D 759, the Unfinished, which underpinned and gradually awoke interest in the composer’s earlier symphonies composed between 1813 and 1818.
For his guest appearance with the Berliner Philharmoniker, Iván Fischer – chief conductor of the Konzerthausorchester Berlin from 2012 until the summer of 2018 and still head of the Budapest Festival Orchestra – has programmed Schubert’s C major Symphony D 944 together with two smaller orchestral works by Schubert’s admirer, Dvořák: his Legends No. 6 and No. 10 from the Bohemian composer’s opus 59, written in 1881. This work, originally written for four-hand piano and later also arranged for orchestra by Dvořák himself, was dedicated to the Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick. He, in turn, was one of the harshest critics of Hugo Wolf who is represented in the middle part of the programme with a series of orchestral songs. The soloist in this multi-faceted Romantic programme is the baritone Christian Gerhaher, a special highlight of whose 15-year musical partnership with the Berliner Philharmoniker was his appointment as Artist in Residence in the 2013/2014 season.