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Briefly Noted: Heras-Casado in HIP Schubert

available at Amazon
Schubert, Symphonies 3/4, Freiburger Barockorchester, P. Heras-Casado

(released on September 10, 2013)
HMC 902154 | 54'33"
The historically informed performance (HIP) movement is officially mainstream, as I have noted before, a sub-discipline that most conservatory students now are at least exposed to, an alternative career path or option to add to the list, along with specialized contemporary music ensembles, for example. Certainly this has been true of voice students before, increasingly so of instrumental majors, and now there is at least one example of a major conductor, Pablo Heras-Casado, profiled in an adoring New York Times article this time last year. He is a known quantity in New York, due to his conducting position with the Orchestra of St. Luke's and appearances with the outstanding Freiburger Barockorchester at the Mostly Mozart festival.

With the latter ensemble Heras-Casado has recorded two of the lesser-known Schubert symphonies, in performances that put these two slender, even lightweight works in the best possible light. Neither of these symphonies, composed in 1815 and 1816 when Schubert had just turned 18, is what one might call a masterpiece: the menuetto third movements are in Schubert's almost-empty salon style, dances that escaped from suites somewhere and burrowed their way into a symphony. The fast section of the first movement of no. 3, with its swelling crescendo and frenetic rhythms, would not be out of place in a Rossini opera overture. The similarity between the two composers is not by chance: they were near contemporaries, born within five years of one another, and in this period both were mass-producing music at an alarming rate -- Schubert in symphonies, Singspiels, string quartets, piano sonatas, and songs; Rossini in Italian operas -- when Beethoven still had a decade to live but, for part of that time, was not producing any music. Not that these are not accomplished works, far beyond what one would expect from a precocious teenager. The Freiburger Barockorchester, playing on historical instruments and in small numbers (8-7-5-4-3 in the strings), squeezes out the maximum crunchy detail, with the brass and percussion booming in tutti sections (in the first movement of no. 4, for example) and the winds adding often unusual colors. This is especially true in the hisses and squeals of the two flutes, some of the high notes strikingly piccolo-like in timbre (easier to reach on the modern flute but challenging on earlier instruments).

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