Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No.3 in D major, D.200 (1814) [21:54]
Symphony No.5 in B flat major, D.485 (1816) [28:24]
Sinfonieorchester Basel/Dennis Russell Davies
rec. live, 21 Sept 2011 (D.200), 11-12 Jan 2012 (D.485), Stadt-Casino Basel Musiksaal, Switzerland
The Sinfonieorchester Basel has released many CDs and now has an own label of the same name managed by Solo Musica. Their first release is of two symphonies from the teenage Schubert. These are conducted by Dennis Russell Davies who, as of the 2009/10 season, became the orchestra’s third chief conductor. 

Schubert’s early symphonies are decidedly classical in form and style. Not surprisingly they are greatly influenced by those great classical masters Haydn and Mozart. These early symphonic scores, including the Symphony No. 3, D.200 and Symphony No. 5, D.485,barely suggest the greatness that was to come later. The Unfinished (1822) and the Ninth (1828) contain his unmistakable musical fingerprints: his cheerful lyricism, engaging personal charm and special Viennese gemutlichkeit.
He was just eighteen when in 1814 he composed his Symphony No.3 in D major, D.200. It seems that he completed the bulk of this elegant score in a mere eight days. In what was a most productive time, it wasn’t long after this work that he composed one of his finest lied, Erlkönig. Schubert had been dead some fifty-three years before his D major symphony was given its public première in London in 1881.
After the unhurried and dramatic introduction Davies in his brisk and highly spirited Allegro con brio blows away any cobwebs that may have settled. In addition to the sense of grandeur and a real vivacity I was struck by the amount of fine detail that Davies reveals. There’s a most impressive stately tread in the Allegretto. Here I was struck by the attractive sheen from the Basel strings and I loved the woodwind contributions. Impressively weighted pacing in the Menuetto unites a Ländler-like trio with a lively, foot-stomping Scherzo in the manner of a rustic dance. Feeling much quicker than I am used to, the Presto vivace, Finale propels forward at near-breakneck speed. Even so this version lacks the intensity of some of the finest rival accounts.
Following closely on the heels of his Symphony No. 4Tragic’ Schubert’s Symphony No.5,also from 1816, is generally acknowledged as one of Schubert’s three most popular symphonies. He scored the work for his smallest orchestra dispensing with clarinets, second flute, trumpets and timpani. The first public performance was in 1841 in Vienna twelve years after Schubert’s death. In the hands of the adept Davies the exquisite charms of the flowing opening Allegro with its glorious melody is remarkably uplifting. One senses that the Basel players are extremely comfortable in Schubert’s lush and deep sentimental writing in the Andante con moto. It evoked a feeling of Mozartean refinement. There are nicely pointed rhythms with a sharp edge in the Menuetto and these radiate a bright optimism. Certainly not afraid of fast speeds, Davies takes the Allegro vivace, Finale at an extremely swift pace which brings this heart-warming score to a fresh and vivacious conclusion.
For many years I have admired the beautifully played performance of the Fifth Symphony from Karl Böhm and the Vienna Philharmonic. He recorded it for Deutsche Grammophon in 1979 at the Großer Saal des Wiener Musikvereins on ‘The Originals’ 447 433-2 (c/w Beethoven Symphony No.6Pastoral’). 

Of the complete Schubert symphonies, a recent acquisition but undoubtedly the winning set for me, is conducted by Böhm and the Berlin Philharmonic on a four disc ‘collectors edition’ box. These were recorded in 1963/71 in the exceptional acoustic of the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin Dahlem. In Schubert Böhm has few peers conducting typically warm and polished performances on Deutsche Grammophon 471 307-2. I often play the handsome 4 disc box set of the complete Schubert symphonies from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam under Nikolaus Harnoncourt. These sympathetic and unfailingly musical performances were recorded in live performances at the Concertgebouw Hall, Amsterdam in 1992 on Warner Classics 2564 62323-2. Sheer class. 

The Basel engineers provide natural and vividly clear sound. I could not detect any unwanted audience noise on either of the symphonies and there was no applause at the conclusions. These are vigorous and polished accounts from an orchestra and conductor that prove themselves excellent advocates for these two appealing Schubert scores.
Michael Cookson
Vigorous and polished accounts from these excellent Schubert advocates.