Lean and mean, refreshingly scrubbed, or grimly business-like and fatuously dynamic? I’m not always a fan of John Eliot Gardiner’s work, however, this combination, short measure though it is, works for me.

The Schubert Fifth has none of the gemütlich charm of Böhm, let alone the genial radiance of Beecham, but the playing is tight and alert throughout, with gorgeous perky woodwind and the seldom observed first movement repeat. The slow movement has just the right amount of melancholy shadows, the Minuet infectious bounce and the finale the perfect helping of Haydnesque high spirits.

The Brahms is even more interesting: it’s hard to avoid making this work sound bucolic and Gardiner imparts a suitably alfresco mood: again, woodwind are forward and the absence of violins imbues it with a richness. Phrasing throughout is gentle and in the opening movement, sweetly tentative. The horns in the scherzo, quasi minuet (in 6/4 rather than the customary 3/4 time) and the rollicking finale are open hearted.

The central Adagio non troppo interested me most with its infusion of genuine profundity enhanced by the lower strings. Stirring stuff! The only other recording of this work I’m familiar with is by the 85-year-old Adrian Boult, normally a fine Brahmsian but here he misses the mark completely. Recorded live in the Concertgebouw, applause is retained after the Brahms, not the Schubert.


Composer: Schubert, Brahms
Composition: Symphony No 5, Serenade No 2
Performer: Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique/John Eliot Gardiner
Catalogue Number: Soli Deo Gloria SDG729