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Herreweghe and Antwerp Symphony Orchestra perform Schubert’s Second and Fifth Symphonies

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Symphonies Nos 2 & 5
Antwerp Symphony Orchestra/Philippe Herreweghe
Phi LPH 028

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To us, it’s hard to understand how Schubert’s attractive early symphonies can have languished in total obscurity until the enterprising conductor of the Crystal Palace, August Manns, took them up in the late 1870s and early 1880s. Both symphonies recorded here unusually have their minuet in a minor key, and in the case of No. 5 the G minor minuet clearly shows the young Schubert’s love of Mozart’s famous symphony No. 40 in that key. The Fifth is the most familiar, as well as the most perfectly proportioned, among the youthful symphonies. No. 2 is more prolix, and its opening movement can seem tedious when its long first-half repeat is observed, as it is here by Philip Herreweghe. Its main subject is characterised by its persistent off-beat accents, all meticulously notated by Schubert. Alas, Herreweghe glosses over them, so that the music lacks an element of excitement and urgency. Nor does Herreweghe offer much the slow movement a great deal of help. It’s a set of variations of no great intrinsic interest, and it’s performed rather rigidly here, without the touch of charm the music needs. Things improve in the energetic account of the finale, but by then it’s too late.

The first movement of No. 5 is again somewhat short on lightness and elegance, though there’s much to enjoy in the remainder of the performance. However, for grace and polish, as well as superior string playing, Claudio Abbado’s recordings with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe remain a benchmark.

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Misha Donat