CBSO Schubert review

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE SAVOURS SCHUBERT


'Simply Schubert': CBSO at Birmingham Town Hall ★★★★

A small but very enthusiastic audience were clearly all agreed that this was a very pleasant way to spend a balmy summer evening. The players, enthused by Edward Gardner's vigorous conducting, clearly felt that too – one young second fiddle played throughout with a radiant smile. This wasn't the time for music of profundity and soul searching but for sitting back, relaxing and listening to the teenage Schubert flexing and stretching his compositional skills. His Symphony No. 1 in D major was completed when he was only sixteen but there is nothing of the wunderkind quality of Mendelssohn's 'Midsummer Night's Dream' overture, the dazzling work of a fifteen-year-old. It's rather more like a schoolboy formulating a mathematical theorem with a copy of Euclid open at his elbow. Substitute Haydn for Euclid and we have a carefully crafted classical symphony that closely follows the master's template. An imposing martial Adagio opening followed by a lively Allegro which here zipped along merrily. Occasionally there's a glimpse of the later Schubert, master of lyricism and dance, as in the third movement's jolly little Ländler, but unsurprisingly it's a work strong on gesture but weaker on substance.

Gardner quite rightly divided the fiddles left and right and, sitting in the front stalls, I had the perfect view of the benefits. In the opening movement, and in that of the Symphony No. 4 in C Minor which followed, the firsts have the theme while the seconds play a repeated rhythmic figure before they unite, which gives the music a sudden welcome shift in momentum. Schubert was nineteen when he composed the fourth – the appellation 'Tragic' is entirely misleading for this light-hearted symphony – and the music has more variety; not all modulations are by-the-book and Schubert's demanding high notes kept the horns alert. The overture to Schubert's later operatic flop 'Fierrabras' was of a different order with the opening tremolando strings plunging us straight into the world of Weber and was performed with enjoyable elan. Gardner and the CBSO will shortly be recording the works as part of their continuing series of Schubert's symphonies for the Chandos label. On this evening's evidence the disc will be well worth a hearing.

Norman Stinchcombe

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