Brahms • Schubert
Schubert: Symphony No. 5 in B flat; Brahms: Serenade No. 2
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique/John Eliot Gardiner
Soli Deo Gloria SDG 729 59:05 mins
There can be few more welcoming openings to an early Romantic symphony than that of Schubert’s Fifth: bright woodwind chords give way to the strings rushing down to a magical first theme (this performance opts to leave the introductory chords out of the exposition repeat). Oddly enough, the rendition of the opening bars seems a little blank, a pity since what follows combines determination and freshness; there is lovely phrasing in the strings and beautifully shaded woodwind playing. The remaining movements are thoughtful in articulation, particularly in the Menuetto, and throughout the performance is alive to Schubert’s youthful harmonic audacity.
For all the retrospective qualities of Brahms’s Second Serenade there is much that anticipates his symphonic manner, notably in the outer movements and the deeply felt Adagio, a movement much admired by Clara Schumann. This performance glories in the pungent qualities of Brahms’s orchestration and there is no denying the infectiousness they capture in the faster movements in particular. But, as with their rendition of Schubert, there are moments of uncomfortable ensemble and while there is much to admire in this well-recorded performance there are rough edges. Riccardo Chailly’s readings with the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester make a far more dependable recommendation.