Review: Simply Schubert

Simon Hale gets symphonic with the CBSO at Birmingham Town Hall.

The CBSO showed how Franz Schubert should be admired not only for his songs and chamber music but also for his symphonic works. The playfulness and exuberance of his perfectly crafted first and fourth symphonies were given full expression by the orchestra at Birmingham Town Hall.

Like welcome waves washing over you after coming from a sun-baked Victoria Square, the melodies throughout the short programme were joyfully engaging.

Edward Gardner’s stylish and impassioned conducting brought out the best in the musicians who made the early 19th century music sound fresh and exciting. The orchestra captured the sheer zest and fearlessness of a composer who was only 16 when he wrote his first symphony – and only 19 when he had completed his fourth.

Both works in this Simply Schubert concert had you thinking of the influence of Haydn and Mozart rather than Beethoven, who was 30 before he completed his first symphony.

The wit and sparkle in the first symphony were there from the start, the music turning languidly bucolic before returning for a boisterous finale.

Schubert titled his fourth symphony Tragic, which must have been pure attention seeking. Playing games with unexpected interruptions, the work’s great opening octaves returned triumphantly almost by popular demand as an irresistible crowd pleaser.

Although his operas get as little recognition today as his early symphonies, Schubert’s opera overtures have survived the test of time. The CBSO’s performance of the overture to Fierrabras, which deftly emphasised the diverse contrasts between the themes and characters from a story from the time of Charlemagne, should ensure that continues. The audience may have been small, but the applause at the end of the concert was as loud and enthusiastic as if it were a full house.

The CBSO will perform Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony in Symphony Hall on Sunday, July 24th. The programme will also include Glinka’s Overture to Ruslan & Ludmila and Smyth’s Concerto for Violin and Horn. For tickets call 0121 780 3333 or book online at