John Eliot Gardiner / Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique

Schubert: Symphony 5; Brahms: Serenade 2

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In this 2016 concert, splendidly recorded by Gardiner's engineers at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestra Révolutionnaire et Romantique return to the Schubert-Brahms pairing of a 2009 release and deliver pleasing and often revelatory results featuring the orchestra's period brasses and winds, and strings unafraid to offer a bit of what Astor Piazzolla liked to call mud. The Brahms Serenade No. 2 in A major, Op. 16, with its violin-less orchestration, perhaps makes a good place to start for those unfamiliar with Gardiner's encounters with Romantic music: the chamber-like feel of the music is historically justifiable and opens up space for the coloration of the orchestra's fine period wind section. Sample the slow movement, Adagio lovingly pushed to just the edge of "non troppo," for the full effect. But actually it's the Schubert Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, D 485, where Gardiner is most startling. Where he reduces the dimensions of the Brahms, he increases those of the Schubert to reveal a young composer who was struggling with Beethoven's example and was way ahead of everyone else in doing so. The work is usually presented by the likes of the Concertgebouw Orchestra as an exercise in Mozartian sparkle, for the influence of Mozart is strong. But here there's also a good deal of Beethoven's Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36, bringing to mind the original Viennese evaluation of that work as "a hideously writhing, wounded dragon that refuses to die." Here it is not the winds, reduced in size by Schubert, but the low brasses that have the starring role, rumbling and carrying the music along. Both revolutionary and romantic, for certain, and strongly recommended.

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