Embarking for the first time on his journey through all of Schubert’s eight symphonies with these exciting, theatrical accounts of two of the composer’s teenage essays in the genre, René Jacobs returns, as he tells us, to one of his favourite composers as a boy soprano. “So many years later I return to my first love – as a conductor. I discover another Schubert, yet love him as much as I did the first one.”

Jacobs’ reputation as a conductor rests on his expertise in opera, especially those of Mozart. His detailed commentaries on each movement of Schubert’s Symphonies 1 in D Major (1813) and 6 in C Major (1818) therefore make constant comparisons between Schubert’s use of this or that key, tempo or dramatic device, and Mozart’s. But more broadly, each theme becomes a character in a conflict; the first-movement sonata form a dramatic construction with exposition, development and recapitulation scenes in an opera or play.

This is not creative or interpretive license on Jacobs’ part: as he points out, “During Schubert’s time, symphonies had become ‘operas of instruments’.” By placing the violins and woodwinds on opposite sides of the orchestra, as was the practice in Schubert’s time, he also emphasises a real sense of dialogue and conflict. It is also worth pointing out that these are period instrument recordings, featuring the ever-inventive HIP band B’Rock Orchestra. In committing to a complete recording of Schubert’s symphonies on authentic instruments, Jacobs adds his name to a list that includes such luminaries as Brüggen, Goodman, Norrington, Minkowski and Immerseel.

So you might say there is already some stiff competition out there in the HIP camp alone. But as with anything he chooses to record, Jacobs puts his own stamp on these symphonies, offering intensely dramatic readings by turns forcible and delicate but always clear, transparent – and above all, operatic.

Composer: Schubert
Composition: Symphonies Nos 1 & 6
Performer: B’Rock Orchestra/René Jacobs
Catalogue Number: Pentatone PTC5186707

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