Schubert Symphony Nos. 4 & 5
Schubert was still a teenager when he wrote his Fourth and Fifth symphonies in the spring and summer of 1816. They were intended for performance by amateur orchestras, and in both we can hear fond reminiscences of works from the Classical repertoire those orchestras must have played. The Fifth Symphony is in B flat, but its minuet unexpectedly turns out to be cast in G minor, with unmistakable echoes of the minuet from Mozart’s great Symphony in that key, No. 40; while the dramatic slow introduction to the C minor Fourth Symphony seems to look back to Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture.
Schubert’s early Symphonies are small beer beside his two masterpieces of the genre, the Unfinished and the Great C major Symphony, but they are works of considerable charm, and – in their outer movements – irrepressible energy. Roger Norrington delivers an impressively austere account of No. 4’s dramatic slow introduction, and his performances throughout are imbued with characteristic insight and intelligence. Only his easy-going view of the Fifth Symphony’s minuet is curiously at variance with the music’s character. But although his interpretations are by no means unyielding, there’s more Romantic ardour, as well as elegance and warmth, to be found in the recordings by Abbado and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, which also benefit from superior orchestral playing. In the case of No. 5, the most scintillating and delicately scored among Schubert’s earlier Symphonies, there’s also the classic recording by Beecham and the RPO, with its irresistible lightness and transparency.