Pablo Heras-Casado and his Freiburg players bring the most gorgeous string and woodwind sonorities to the Andante con moto with a beautifully shaped opening, subtly picking up a rhythmic pulse as the tempo increases in a magical transition into the Allegro un poco agitato andante. The orchestra soon gain a gutsy forward bounding momentum pointed up by timpani. There is a wonderful precision and tautness from these players, observing every nuance. Heras-Casado’s care with dynamics is superb with some wonderfully hushed moments that contrast with wonderfully rhythmically buoyant passages. He generates much excitement with some lovely individual instrumental timbres.
A finely transparent Vivace non troppo follows, so fleet and joyful, so wonderfully Mendelssohnian. Beautifully phrased with some wonderfully sprung phrases there is a real sense of re-discovery of this wonderful music before a superb tailing off in the coda.
These players bring a beautifully conceived opening as the theme of the Adagio is revealed, slowly taking the melody forward with a gentle pulse in the basses. The second subject each time it appears is taken at a stately pace before building to some grand climaxes, pointed up by period timpani. This conductor shapes some wonderful phrases, with lovely string and woodwind textures and again such a finely done coda.
The Allegro vivacissimo - Allegro maestoso assai springs into life with exceptionally crisp and alert playing. There are some wonderfully shaped dynamics as the movement progresses, building to some wonderfully emphatic climaxes before a wonderfully quiet moment that heralds the new theme that emerges to take us to the resounding coda. This is an outstanding performance in every way.
A bubbling rhythmic drive is given to the Allegro vivace of Symphony No.4 in A major, Op.90 ‘Italian’ again with a very fine transparency of sound. These players are able to hustle the music forward with a great feeling of spontaneity. There are moments, particular quieter ones that have a chamber like feel. Again the tautness and immaculate ensemble is impressive. Control of dynamics is again very fine, allowing many details and subtleties to emerge through the wonderfully light texture. Heras-Casado brings some very fine development passages that lead to wonderful peaks. There is a particularly beautiful woodwind passage towards the end before the glorious coda arrives.
The Andante con moto has a fast jogging pace in the brass over which the orchestra bring a lovely longer line. Heras-Casado creates a wonderful flow here and throughout there is the most lovely instrumental tapestry of sound with wonderful shaping of phrases and always with an underlying urgency of flow. There are some most lovely hushed passages.
There is only a slight slackening of pace as the Con moto moderato flows forward, again with a fine transparency that allows the woodwinds and each layer of the strings to emerge. There are some fine horn phrases in the trio section with beautiful little clarinet entries.
Heras-Casado leaps into the Presto and Finale: Saltarello with some absolutely terrific flute passages. The music positively bounds ahead pointed up by the timpani. There are so many lovely little individual instrumental details and when the woodwind come in over the strings they create a terrific texture. This is a superbly played and quite captivating movement. Later there are some impressively played fast and fleet string passages before the woodwind bubble through the strings. The music rises to some fine peaks before arriving at a most lovely coda.
This is a performance of chamber like subtlety and transparency with an underlying drive and energy.
Harmonia Mundi has a winner with Pablo Heras-Casado and the Freiburger Barockorchester. If you think that you’ve heard these symphonies too many times try these performances and revel in the freshness of re-discovery.
They receive a remarkably vivid recording from Auditorio y Centro de Congresos, Murcia, Spain. There are excellent booklet notes on the music though some information about the choice of instruments used for early 19th c. repertoire would have been useful. (Bruce Reader)