Schubert Symphonies Nos 1 & 6
B’Rock Orchestra/René Jacobs
Pentatone PTC 5186 707 (hybrid CD/SACD) 57:39 mins
René Jacobs is a conductor of strong and often controversial views, and these performances of youthful Schubert symphonies are nothing if not thought-provoking. Certainly, there are imaginative touches – the reduced body of strings at the delicate start of the Sixth Symphony’s finale is one – but many of Jacobs’s tempos are so hard-driven that the music’s essential charm, to say nothing of its clarity, is lost. The last movement of the Symphony No. 1 is actually so fast that an intermittent ‘dotted’ rhythm becomes literally unplayable.
When it comes to the scherzo of No. 6 Jacobs seems to be at a loss. His detailed booklet notes suggest that Schubert must have been bored when writing the trio section, and that its complete lack of sophistication was simply intended to be provocative. Jacobs also regards the trio’s tempo marking of più lento as meaning just a little slower than the scherzo’s presto indication. But Schubert was obviously influenced by the slow trio sections in the scherzo of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, and if his trio is played at a much slower pace everything falls into place. Jacobs observes all the repeats, and offers that as his excuse for taking the da capo of the scherzo at an even faster speed than the first time. All quite baffling. Jacobs is much more successful in the slow movements, and the alert playing of the aptly titled B’Rock Orchestra ensures that one is never bored. But in the end it’s hard not to feel that the relentlessly high-voltage approach is self-defeating.