Philippe Herreweghe and the Royal Flemish Philharmonic play Schubert

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Franz Schubert
LABELS: Phi
ALBUM TITLE: Fran Schubert
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1, 3 & 4
PERFORMER: Royal Flemish Philharmonic/ Philippe Herreweghe
CATALOGUE NO: Phi LPH 019

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These two discs are an almost unmitigated delight: early Schubert – Symphonies Nos 1 and 3 composed when he was 18, No. 4 when he was 19 – treated with just the right combination of seriousness and charm. My only complaint is that the winds are too prominent and the strings sometimes barely audible, certainly when the whole orchestra – not a large one here – is playing.

The winner among these works is Symphony No. 3, a favourite of Carlos Kleiber’s and a piece of which he made a highly eccentric recording. But this new disc is enchanting in every way, with Schubert’s devotion to Beethoven’s Second Symphony, in the same key, evident but unstressed. Interesting that none of Schubert’s symphonies has a slow movement, Andante being his commonest marking for the second movement of each of his symphonies. Nos 1 and 3 have middle movements which are delightful interludes between the longer and weightier outer movements. In the case of the Tragic No. 4, the mood is more portentous, though cheerfulness will keep breaking in. It is the least satisfactory of these works, and the one which gains most, I think, from older-style performances such as Carlo Maria Giulini. Would someone who only knew the Schubert of the late chamber, piano and orchestral works, recognise these as by the same composer? I think they wouldn’t, and one of the chief merits of these discs is to emphasise that.

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Michael Tanner