Schubert: Symphony no. 5; Works for violin & orchestra

Capella Savaria, Nicholas McGegan
58:19
Hungaroton HCD 32794

A much-loved symphony plus three shorter lesser-known works for violin and orchestra which have in common dating of 1816-17 make for a more than usually interesting Schubert collection.

The Symphony No. 5 in B flat of course needs little introduction, a near-perfect work of Classical poise and elegance that has frequently lead to it being termed the most Mozartian of all Schubert’s symphonies. Yet what particularly struck me listening to the present performance is the young Schubert’s skill as a contrapuntist, perhaps an aspect of his writing that we don’t always sufficiently appreciate. That my attention should be drawn to this aspect of the composer’s writing is in itself a tribute to the poised and finely balanced performance Nicholas McGegan draws from Capella Savaria, the Hungarian period instrument orchestra with which he has worked for 30 years. Listen, for example, to the way in which the imitative writing is so clearly yet unobtrusively laid out after the first double bar in the Andante. I like, too, the way in which McGegan gives the cellos and basses real presence. Add to that sensible tempos throughout and a truly affectionate approach to this most lovable of symphonies and the result is a performance that needs no further recommendation.

Of the three works for violin and orchestra the most appealing to my mind is the least known, the Polonaise in B flat, D.580, a work of great charm here given with spirit and elegance by Zsolt Kalló, Capella Savaria’s leader, who produces some especially delicious playing in the central trio section of this brief work. Both the other pieces, the Concert Piece in D, D.345 and the Rondo for Violin and Strings, D.438 are more ambitious, the latter, the only one of the three for which a full manuscript has survived, in particular aiming high. It opens promisingly with a portentous theme that gives way to allow the soloist to steal in with a lovely lyrical melody replete with arabesques and roulades, but once the main dance-like rondo theme is introduced there is insufficient interest to sustain the 14 minutes or so of its duration. That is certainly no fault of Kalló, whose playing both here and in D.345 is exemplary.

Brian Robins