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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 3 (1815) [21:35]
Symphony No. 4 (1816) [32:52]
Freiburger Barockorchester/Pablo Heras-Casado
rec. July 2012, Auditorio Manuel de Falla, Granada
Booklet notes: French, English, German
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902154 [54:33]

Pablo Heras-Casado’s debut disc with Harmonia Mundi sees him draw thrillingly fizzing performances of two Schubert symphonies from the Freiburger Barockorchester on period instruments. The CD cover, showing the conductor leaping in mid-air, is quite indicative of his Schubert. 

The requisite light touch is unfailingly present in both symphonies. Some may wish for a darker tone in the softer moments, such as the second movement of the Fourth Symphony, but the infectious energy of both works more than compensates. The music is closely recorded, allowing every detail to come through.
The Third Symphony is a complete joy from start to finish, twinkling with charm at every turn. The first movement Allegro zips along - about as quick as I have heard it. This energy is maintained throughout, making for some enormously exciting moments. The strings do remarkably well to get their fingers around the notes at this speed without any compromise in quality. The tempi of the outer movements also permit Heras-Casado to focus on shaping long phrases, skipping over bar-lines. The accompaniment is similarly dynamic, with fierce, taut energy in string tremolos, highlighting the closeness of Schubert to his fellow Viennese, Joseph Haydn. The woodwind find a pleasingly light and characterful articulation in the second subject which readily brings a smile to the face.
The second movement is graceful and stately in its outer sections, and the middle passage benefits from an excellent clarinet solo. The minuet, by contrast, is a boisterous affair with strongly accented third beats. The oboe and bassoon playing in the trio is a great joy at a tempo only marginally slower than the rest of the movement.
The tarantella finale charges along irresistibly with a dashing one-in-a-bar pulse. Dynamics and articulation are closely attended to; in particular the horn and clarinet accompaniments to the main theme are fantastically light of touch. The movement romps to an exuberant finish, closing a brilliantly exciting performance.
The Fourth Symphony, written and named by the composer when he was 19 (a year after the third) carries similarly buoyant energy but an additional sense of gentle wistfulness in places. The first movement shows the chamber music strengths of the Freiburgers, with musical lines passing between sections flawlessly, each adapting to the phase direction of the last. There is a different sort of energy here to that in the Third Symphony; there is less of the untroubled optimism here, despite some outwardly bright corners.
There is good warmth in the string playing of the slow movement, which seems to sigh softly in its repeated descending figures at quite a slow tempo. The accompanying flute turns are elegantly placed, and the longer flute lines show a beautiful tone with no vibrato. The minuet once again features heavily accented third beats which disrupt the rhythm in a manner similar to that in the Third Symphony minuet.
The finale’s hurried quavers bring the Sturm und Drang of Haydn to mind. The same uncompromising clarity of texture is present as with the rest of the disc, but the intensity seems to be a notch higher. Heras-Casado comes across the ending rather briskly, eschewing any pull back in tempo; otherwise this is well-shaped and played.
The Concertgebouw/Harnoncourt set applies historically-informed principles to a modern orchestra with excellent results; there is close to the same energy as on this disc, but the RCO bring a marginally fuller sound to the Fourth Symphony. With the same orchestra, Otto Klemperer turns the Andante of the fourth into a true slow movement. This pair of symphonies from Heras-Casado and the Freiburg Barockorchester, though, is well worth a listen for its constant energy and infectious optimism in the Third. It is to be hoped that this partnership will be returning to the other Schubert symphonies.
Rohan Shotton