Schubert Symphonies Nos 3, 5 & 8
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner
Chandos CHSA 5234 (hybrid CD/SACD) 74:11 mins
Many of us came to know and love the vivacious Third and Fifth Symphonies of the teenage Schubert through Beecham’s classic EMI recordings. So it comes as a surprise and a pleasure to find that Gardner is very much on his way to Beechamesque status, though with very clear ideas of his own. Generally faster tempos, for a start, though never rushed, and always well-articulated; when they meet his gift for keeping dynamics low but intense as Schubert asks and the winsome playing of the CBSO wind, as in the clarinet’s susurrating lead in the Allegro con brio of No. 3’s first movement, the spirit of delight runs high indeed. There isn’t a duff or second-rate idea in any of these works, and along the way it’s enlightening to hear how Schubert moves from echoing Rossini, rather than Beethoven, in his first symphonic masterpiece to finding late-Mozartian shades in the first extended movement, the Andante con moto of No. 5.
Gardner keeps the firm rhythmic definition and a certain elegance of phrasing in the great Unfinished, but the sonorities, not least of the three trombones and the horn edge that surfaces fitfully in the earlier works, partly dictate a greater power, easily embraced in the spacious, truthful recording. The central swathes of both movements are powerful indeed, the pianissimos even more intense, and how far we’ve come from the jaunty wind solos of No. 3 to the pathos of clarinet, oboe and flute in the slow movement’s second theme. On this evidence I can’t wait for Gardner’s Great C major.