Fierrabras, D796 – Overture
Symphony No.1 in D, D82
Symphony No.5 in B-flat, D485
Recorded 19-21 June 2018 at Landgasthof, Riehen, Basel, Switzerland
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson [star ratings at foot of review]
Reviewed: June 2019
CD No: Reviewed from a Sony-supplied digital download: the CD equivalent is not being made available in the UK
Duration: 67 minutes
Heinz Holliger’s version of Schubert’s ‘Great C-major’ Symphony proved outstanding (link below) and in these two earlier works he vividly illuminates the amazing talent of a composer still in his teens. These are sensitive performances, full of articulate phrasing but Holliger never finds it necessary to adjust the speed for the sake of expressiveness. Consistency of tempo together with lively stressing of rhythm ensures a stimulating feeling of drive in the outer movements.
Performed in this way, Symphony No.1 sounds as if it had been created by a composer much greater in age than the sixteen-year-old Schubert. The simple introduction, dramatised by forceful woodwind entries, is followed by a crisply performed Allegro in which the Beethoven-like second subject is swept into the surging pulse of the music and the unusual device of the slow introduction’s restatement three-quarters of the way through is made dramatically effective. Holliger features elegance rather than pathos in the fast-flowing Andante and underlines the rustic nature of the Minuet. Unusually, he adds a little whim of his own, choosing to underline the contrast of the Trio by making a pause before it but importantly he does not allow this section to slacken. All is jollity in the Finale and there are interesting details, as for example the importance of the bassoon parts. The concluding bars are especially exhilarating.
Rhythmic drive remains a feature of Holliger’s conducting in Symphony No.5 but his approach is always elegant as suits this lyrical work. There are elements of gentility such as a slight softening of tone before repeated sections and the legato nature of the bass lines. The Andante flows forward with clear woodwinds, and Schubert’s Allegro molto marking for the Minuet is a little surprising and a measured approach usually convinces but Holliger manages to move swiftly through it without hastening. In the Finale – here very sensitively shaped – the second part of the main theme is marked for repeat and Holliger observes it but he ignores this inner repetition when restating the entire exposition. I have not heard this done before but it typifies Holliger’s attention to structure.
Fierrabras was composed in 1823. Its Overture begins quietly and darkly on the strings – there are reminiscences of Weber here; so too when it leads to a dramatic Allegro theme. It is hardly surprising that this similarity is brought to mind because Fierrabras, which, as with Weber’s operas uses spoken dialogue, was commissioned by The Kärntnertor Theater in Vienna in the same year as was Euryanthe. The Schubert continues in a conventional but tuneful manner and Kammerorchester Basel gives a lively performance.
Holliger has great sympathy for Schubert and I hope all his Symphonies will be released from Basel. I do though have reservations about the sound because higher frequencies often have a cloudy nature resulting in a lack of impact from the upper strings. The excellence of the compact disc reproduction on Holliger’s ‘Great’ is not equalled here although the venue and producer are the same. Could this be the difference between downloaded sound and CD quality?
Performances ★★★★★ / Sound ★★★