Only a handful of orchestras are instantly identifiable by their sound and only one – the Vienna Philharmonic – by the inbred style of its playing. In the slow movement of Schubert's Fifth Symphony, Daniel Barenboim and the orchestra might easily have been working from Schubert's original parts. The phrasings felt so authentic, so effortless, and the string playing so supple and so relaxed as to be almost horizontal.
Actually, Barenboim took a fairly robust view of this early Schubert symphony, reminding us at all times that this was indeed a young man's fancy. Its rhythmic vitality was suitably unbridled, the tiny wind band at the heart of the orchestra presenting its own set of jocular characters – not least the two horns whose gruff lower notes pointed up the driving rusticity of the scherzo and afforded us a fleeting premonition of Bruckner to come.
Bruckner's Fourth Symphony can rarely have sounded truer to its nickname, "Romantic". The opening page alone – with the Philharmonic's superbly distinctive first horn emerging from a low mist of tremolando violins – excited not just admiration but awe. The glory of the performance lay in its sense of wonder. Barenboim exerted such a sure grip on this music's architecture and encouraged such a wide range of expression and dynamics that even Bruckner's humblest gestures were, so to speak, raised high.
The majestic complement of brass, ranged right across the back of the orchestra, was simply magnificent, blended and balanced to perfection with the unique wide-bore horns acrobatically leading the hunt, breathtakingly distant at first but roaring into the foreground of Bruckner's galloping climaxes.
And it wasn't just the famed sostenuto of the Vienna strings that proved so satisfying but the many becalmed moments of stasis – the extraordinary beauty of the violas reaching into the heart of the slow movement, the open horn sound echoed with its muted equivalent. At one point in the finale a single hushed string chord arrived. Magic would be one word for it; peerless is another.
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