SCHUBERT: Symphonies 3 & 4 – Freiburger Barockorchester/ Pablo Heras-Casado – Harmonia mundi

by | Aug 7, 2013 | Classical CD Reviews

SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 3 in D Major, D. 200; Symphony No. 4 in C Minor, D. 417 “Tragic” – Freiburger Baroque Orch./ Pablo Heras-Casado – Harmonia mundi HMC 902154, 54:33 *****:

Occasionally, a young enthusiast will shake the dust from a “masterpiece” and renegotiate its merits in a refreshed, infectious manner. So, the relatively youthful Freiburger Barockorchester, celebrating its twenty-fifth season, injects some decisively fervent energy into the early symphonies of the Viennese master Schubert whose Third (1815) and Fourth (1816) Symphonies receive tempestuously animated performances under conductor Pablo Heras-Casado (rec. July 2012) in his premier inscription for Harmonia mundi.

I recall having been struck by conductor Carlos Kleiber’s canny way with the D Major Symphony on his DGG recording, especially in his lithe handling of the second movement Allegretto. Here, the entire opus under Heras-Casado percolates with astonishingly clear vivacity, not the least factor of which derives from the incredibly active participation of his orchestra timpanist, Maarten van der Valk, who lights up the outer movements of the D Major with combustible materials. Brisk tempos – including repeats – with incisive (and often vibrato-less) instrumental colors, and a finale in the form of a wild tarantella to beat the band combine to make this reading a pulse pounder of the first order.

The sturm und drang C Minor Symphony quite consciously exploits the slow introduction of Haydn to lead into an intense maelstrom of conflicting energies, where the Barockorchester horns and deep basses contribute to the harmonic and metric strife.  The Freiburger clarinets and oboes add a distinctive color to the dark procession; and even the flute parts suggest more of dark Carl Maria von Weber than jovial Rossini, as in the finale of the D Major Symphony. The lyricism of eminently lachrymose colors has rarely attained such a transparency as it finds in this realization. The five-part Andante, the heart of the work, bears Schubert’s own epithet “Tragic” most nobly, cast as a dialogue in two contrasted keys, A-flat Major and F Minor. The woodwind transition over pulsating strings proves most effective, a well-honed balance of wringing pathos and classical security.

The Menuetto: Allegro vivace – Trio insists on converting Classical formulas into unsettling procedures as well, ushering in askew rhythmic pulses, chromatic supporting notes, and jarring sforzatos in the outer section against a thoroughly naïve Trio section.  Just the opening chords of the Menuetto (surely a ‘scherzo’ in all but name) played out-of-context in this realization would stump most name-that-tune aficionados. The emotional malaise does not resolve itself happily in this C Minor Symphony, certainly an idiosyncratic ‘tonic’ to the more famous C Minor Symphony by Beethoven. Agitated and relentlessly driven, the final Allegro bristles with seething energy, along with its fervent lyricism in the midst of any and all emotional trials. The Freiberg horns, ably supported by inflamed strings, high flutes, and that colossal tympani, make this sturm und drang conclusion a dark ride of an imperious nature, one that demands I recommend this interpretation to any serious student of Schubert’s multi-faceted art.

—Gary Lemco

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