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
SINFONIEORCHESTER BASEL SOB 01 [50:28]
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. 4 ‘Tragic’
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.6
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
Vigorous and polished accounts from these excellent Schubert advocates.