Schubert Symphony No. 2 in B flat, D125; Symphony No. 4 in C minor, D417 (Tragic)
Residentie Orkest The Hague/Jan Willem de Vriend
Challenge Classics CC 72739 (hybrid CD/SACD) 56:51 mins
The most vivacious introduction to the remarkable orchestral adventures of the teenage Schubert will always be Beecham’s interpretations of the Third and Fifth Symphonies. The Second is of the same charming ilk, filtering shades of Mozart, Rossini and early Beethoven through Schubert’s individual lens, but the personalities of the Hague’s Residentie Orchestra and its principal conductor since 2015 Jan Willem de Vriend, launching a Schubert cycle, aren’t equal to that of the young composer. There’s enough focus here to show what a miracle of perpetual motion the opening movement’s Allegro vivace is, but given period-style vibrato-free string playing, more love and nurturing are needed in legato phrasing, while more character from the slightly recessed woodwind would help Schubert’s special writing for them.
The Fourth works better, given the rugged, horn-edged profile of the orchestra in lively fortissimos. While the ‘tragic’ pathos of the outer movements is more generic than the style we get in the more Rossinian, Haydnesque Schumann, there’s a truly original underlining of the extraordinary, lopsided scherzo unisons. As far as the avoidance of repeats in the Second’s first movement, and the Fourth’s finale, one is reminded of what Richter would ask students who omitted them in the piano sonatas: ‘What? You don’t love Schubert’s music?’ Admittedly the exposition given twice in the Second would seriously unbalance the structure. In their absence, a curious filler in this and other instalments of an overture, say, or orchestral dances might have helped to sell an otherwise unoriginal series.