Symphonies Nos 5 & 6
Residentie Orkest The Hague/Jan Willem de Vriend
Challenge Classics CC72803 (CD/SACD) 61:28 mins
This release concludes the recording of all Schubert’s symphonies by this versatile collection of players – as much at home in Messiaen as in Schubert, two composers with as little in common as possible. I don’t know what the performances of the two last Schubert symphonies have been like, but the accounts here, of works that Schubert composed in 1816 and 1817, are of chamber-sized dimensions, though the instruments that perform them sound modern, and stylistically the performances are ‘modern’ in the sense that they are rapid on the whole, with little modification of tempos which one might expect from a band of this size.
The enchanting opening theme of Symphony No. 5 sets what will be the preponderant tone, vigorous and elegant, and that agreeably bracing idiom is maintained throughout both symphonies. There is no hint of the power, pathos and phenomenal energy to be found in the last two symphonies. When Schubert wrote these early works he was still primarily a composer of song, so little happens in the way of development. That may sound negative, but actually thanks to the elegance of the playing one can say that these pieces are as lightly enjoyable as anything Mozart composed at the same age.