Symphonies Nos 4 & 5
B’Rock Orchestra/René Jacobs
Pentatone PTC 5186 856 59:24 mins
B’Rock Orchestra, the Belgian period instrument orchestra largely dedicated to Baroque and new works for period instruments, and conductor René Jacobs continue their journey through Schubert’s symphonies with this pairing of the contrasting Fourth and Fifth Symphonies.
Schubert composed the Symphony No. 4 in C minor – which he himself called Tragische, albeit some time after its completion – in 1816 when he was 19 years old. Surprisingly (to his contemporaries, if not to us in hindsight) mature and sophisticated, its sombre opening has echoes in the dark primordial soup of Haydn’s Creation ‘Chaos’ and a nod to Beethoven, and B’Rock articulate this finely before the vibrancy of the ongoing Allegro vivace section. The symphony as a whole here is less tragic, more urgent and convincing, not least the final movement which moves along under Jacobs with all the operatic urgency of a horse and carriage fleeing some infernal terror. And yet there is triumph here too, if, with Jacobs, a questioning, downbeat ending.
On to the lighter Fifth (B flat major) by way of contrast, though having the liner notes describe it as ‘feminine’ and the more difficult, complex Fourth as ‘masculine’ scarcely enhances our understanding of the music, nor the efforts of the musicians who interpret it so attentively here. The period instruments bring a litheness and transparency, with vigour in the third movement allegro molto, the more pastorally phrased interlude liltingly done by the B’Rock, before the fair clip – and some wilfully eccentric time-keeping – of the final Allegro vivace.
Sarah Urwin Jones