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Schubert: Symphonies Nos 2 & 6

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner (Chandos)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, D 125; Symphony No. 6 in C major, D 589 ‘Little C Major’; Overtures in D major, D 590 and C major, Op. 170, D591 ‘in the Italian Style’
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner
Chandos CHSA 5245   75.53 mins


This recording is perhaps more valuable for the two overtures, both written around the same time as the Sixth Symphony, than for the symphonies themselves. Not that Edward Gardner and the CBSO are unsuccessful in the larger works, but the less familiar shorter pieces are particularly well done. The one in D major has a remarkably beautiful slow introduction; while in the C major companion-piece only the changes back and forth between major and minor remind us that we’re listening to Schubert and not Rossini, whose music was all the rage in Vienna at the time. Certainly both overtures earn their epithet (not used by Schubert – they were published only several decades after his death) of being ‘in the Italian Style’.

Gardner’s tempos for the outer movements of the Symphony No. 2 are dizzyingly fast, and for all the admirable precision of the CBSO’s players there’s inevitably a lingering feeling of scampering. It’s true that Schubert’s marking for the finale is a curious Presto vivace (not just Presto, as given in the disc’s booklet), but it’s hard not to feel that a touch more breathing-space would have allowed the music greater poise and elegance. No such shortcomings in the C major Symphony No. 6, though the increase in tempo for the slow movement’s more military-style middle section is curious, and there’s clearly an edit at one point that makes the music lurch forward still more. My benchmark for these pieces remains DG’s recording with Abbado and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Misha Donat