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Schubert: Symphonies Nos 1 & 4 etc (CBSO/Gardner)

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner (Chandos)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Symphonies Nos 1 & 4; Fierrabras – Overture
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner
Chandos CHSA 5265 (CD/SACD)   67:54 mins


Schubert was just 16 when he composed his First Symphony, in the autumn of 1813. It was almost certainly tried out by his school orchestra, but didn’t receive a professional performance until nearly 70 years later, when August Manns conducted it at Crystal Palace in London. It appeared in print only in 1884, edited by Brahms for the first collected edition of Schubert’s works.

A puzzle thrown up by the symphony concerns the tempo of its minuet movement. Schubert originally gave it as Allegro vivace, but then altered it to Allegretto. The quicker marking suits the energetic minuet itself much better than it does the gentle Ländler-like trio section, and like a good few conductors Edward Gardner has it both ways, taking the minuet at one tempo and the trio at the other.

Despite its fine slow introduction and its graceful slow movement, it’s hard to regard the ‘Tragic’ Symphony No. 4 as among the most successful of Schubert’s early works of the kind. Its outer movements, in particular, are rather four-square and conventional; and following the impressive slow introduction the opening Allegro isn’t helped here by Gardner’s furiously fast tempo, which makes it sound superficially exciting but robs it of some of its seriousness. More successful is the overture to the best of Schubert’s operas, Fierrabras. This is a mature piece beginning in a dark F minor, its solemn atmosphere enhanced by the prominent use of trombones. The CBSO plays admirably throughout, and the Chandos recording is attractively spacious.


Misha Donat