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CD Review

Franz Schubert

Symphony 5

  • Symphony 5
  • German Dances, D 90
  • Five Minuets with Six Trios, D 89
Moscow Virtuosi/Vladimir Spivakov
RCA Victor Red Seal 60452 63min
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My first impression of this version of Schubert's familiar Fifth Symphony was less than favorable. Compared to Klemperer or Bernstein, Spivakov's modest forces seemed anemic and thin. But a second hearing changed my mind completely. Spivakov had no intention of trying to duplicate the sound of a large orchestra with his small ensemble. Instead, he views the symphony as if it were an ambitious chamber work, rather like the composer's beloved Octet. And the result is magical for any listener willing to approach this recording on its own terms.

Spivakov's good-natured, intimate vision is refreshing, and perhaps not far from the kind of performance that Schubert's family orchestra might have given the work. Perhaps the most striking result of this small-scale approach is that the composer's indescribably delicious wind writing – sometimes obscured by the large mass of strings in a full orchestra – is for once heard clearly. However, Spivakov does not attempt an "authentic" performance of the Symphony. Far from it. He employs modern instruments and techniques. And these fine wind players do indeed live up to their "virtuosi" name.

Spivakov downplays the dramatic aspects of the symphony, and the result is the antithesis of Bernstein's recording. In place of Lenny's theatrics, we have all the charm and grace that anyone could desire. (Has the trio section of III ever been played more lovingly?) Don't get me wrong – Bernstein's interpretation is one of best, even if he does seem to have this symphony confused with another, more famous Fifth. Nor would I part with Klemperer's Mozartean reading or Beecham's sweetly lyrical, Rosamunde-like performance. Spivakov's interpretation is closest to Beecham in character.

This CD is filled out with Schubert's Five Minuets and Five German Dances, all composed on a single, memorable day in 1813. While these are likeable little gems, they clearly show signs of the great haste in which they were written. The Moscow Virtuosi perform every bit as well as in the symphony, though I would rather have seen such attention lavished on another Schubert symphony – the Sixth, perhaps. The recorded sound is warm and spacious.

While Spivakov would not be my first choice (that honor clearly belongs to Beecham), anyone who loves this symphony will want to have this disc.

Copyright © 1995, Thomas Godell.
This review originally appeared in the American Record Guide