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Schubert: Symphonies 1 & 6 - Jacobs

Schubert: Symphonies 1 & 6 - Jacobs

PentaTone Classics  PTC 5186 707

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Schubert: Symphonies 1 & 6

B'Rock Orchestra
René Jacobs


MELANCHOLIA BEHIND A CARNIVAL MASK

On his first album released on PENTATONE, multiple prize-winning conductor René Jacobs finally records Schubert, his first great musical love. Jacobs delivers his fresh perspective on the favourite composer of his youth together with the exceptional players of the B’Rock Orchestra, acclaimed for their inspired playing, musical curiosity and original approach to the classics.

The album contains Schubert’s First and Sixth symphonies, written when he was still a teenager. With this recording, Jacobs and the B’Rock Orchestra lift out the maturity and depth of these two early works. Whereas the First has a more classical, bubbly quality, the Sixth shows Schubert’s inclination to musical Romanticism. At the same time, these symphonies have much in common: both display humour and joie de vivre, with “carnivalesque” allusions to early nineteenth-century Italian opera, but behind the happy façade lies a deeper layer, full of melancholy and bitterness. In that respect, these works fully capture Schubert’s personal life: that of a social, lively man, plagued by the knowledge of his fatal illness. They are performed on period instruments, transparent, but full of fire.

 

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Review by John Broggio - November 17, 2018

This disc marks Jacobs first release on Pentatone and his first purely orchestral disc on hi-res media; it is also a rare foray of period instruments into this era on hi-res media.

The opening of the first symphony is promising, brisk without rushing and the distinctive timbres and textures of period instruments effortlessly clarifying Schubert's score. There are plenty of imaginative interpretative touches that add flecks of colour without disturbing the momentum. The (relatively) slow movement also flows pleasingly. A few signs of intervention for effects sake rather than serving the music comes in the trio of the Menuetto, where there are some improvisatory flourishes that, in concert, would please the ear but quickly grate on repeated listening. Jacobs then challenges (but fortunately not too much!) his orchestra in the finale which is very much vivace.

The sixth symphony against starts well with much of merit to the first movement and it certainly can't be denied that Jacobs pushes the coda a lot; some may feel that it is more than benefits the overall musical argument. Again, the slow movement proceeds without a hint of slovenly pace; the woodwind and strings engage in really delightful arcs of "call and response" phrasing and although the orchestra has the capability, rarely do they push the dynamic envelope for its own sake but only to make (good) musical points. It is wonderful to hear the woodwind, horns & timpani being able to let rip without drowning out the entire string section, a visceral thrill denied to accounts of orchestras playing modern instruments.

The Scherzo is again taken at a fast pace but, unlike for Schubert: 8 Symphonies, Masses 5 & 6, Alphonso & Estrella - Harnoncourt, the sotto voce opening from strings is more in proportion to the rest of the exposition; this will please some but disappoint other listeners! Again, it is the trio that will perhaps be most controversial; there is no let up for pace and until the violins have their decorative figurative patterns, it is despatched rather brutally (almost purposefully unmusical in manner) and sounds completely out of sorts with the rest of the conception and doesn't even work on repeated listening. René Jacobs himself provides lengthy and detailed notes on his vision for this music but one can't be helped from thinking that Schubert's music does enough to shock the listener without having to engage in further post-Romantic tactics. The finale is taken at a faster pace than usual and, at times, has the B'Rock Orchestra scampering to keep up - again, this would be thrilling in concert but many will prefer not to hear almost-but-not-quite-in-tune on a repeated basis.

The sound from Pentatone is pure joy to the ear and as already mentioned, Jacobs presents a detailed manifesto for the way he conducts this music - a precedent which other artists might usefully follow if they wish to convey a radical departure from the norm.

This is most recommendable to devotees of Jacobs and/or period performance; for many though, Harnoncourt will provide a more satisfying guide to this music.

Copyright © 2018 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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Comments (2)
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Comment by hiredfox - November 7, 2018 (1 of 2)

"B’Rock Orchestra, acclaimed for their inspired playing, musical curiosity and original approach to the classics".

You have been warned. This smallish chamber ensemble plays period instruments and attempts to re-create the sounds and emotions of these works perhaps as conceived by the composer.

These interpretations will divide opinion and will not please everyone. I find far too much quirkiness in the interpretations and playing which distracted and made me feel uncomfortable. This is not for me.

In all honesty it is impossible for me to make the judgement as to whether to recommend the disc to colleagues or not. Others may love it.

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - November 9, 2018 (2 of 2)

I think you are right, John. This is how the French newspaper ‘Le Parisien’ sees the orchestra: “C’est avec le B’Rock Orchestra, un ensemble à vocation provocatrice, que le baroqueux Gantois aborde enfin en terre schubertienne”. Some love it, but will they in the long run? Novelty has the habit of wearing off quickly.