Saturday, May 26, 2012

David Zinman, Schubert Symphonies Nos. 1, 2, and 7 (Unfinished)

Schubert, Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2
David Zinman, Tonhalle Orchestra, Zurich, although
RCA Red Seal 88697 87147 2

Schubert, Symphony No. 7 (Unfinished)
Schubert, Rondo for Violin and Strings in A major
Schubert, Polonaise in B flat major for Violin and Orchestra
Schubert, Concert Piece in D Major for violin and Orchestra
David Zinman, Tonhalle Orchestra, Zurich
Andreas Janke, Violin
RCA Red Seal 88697 95335 2

Here are the first two discs in David Zinman’s complete Schubert cycle for RCA with the Zurich Tonhalle. The first disc gives us Schubert’s youthful first two symphonies, while the second couples the much later and better known Unfinished (here numbered as 7, rather than the usual 8) with three less well-known works for violin and orchestra.

 Zinman’s approach is historically informed, rather than a period performance. He uses modern instruments, but his Schubert looks back to Mozart and the classical tradition. This is entirely appropriate for the first two symphonies, which are very classical in approach. Symphony No. 1 was written when Schubert was just 16 years old, with No. 2 coming a year later. Zinman makes a good case for both symphonies, which lend themselves to his brisk tempi and clear articulation.

The first symphony is relatively lightweight, although it has real depth in the Andante and a delightfully lilting Trio. The second symphony is altogether more substantial. Its very long opening movement (13’30” even at Zinman’s brisk pace) couldn’t possibly be mistaken for juvenilia. Nor could the Andante variations on a familiar-sounding theme (based on “Il mio Tesoro” in Don Giovanni), or the whirlwind Presto Vivace, which is precisely the type of movement that Zinman and the Tonhalle play so convincingly.

All in all, Zinman’s Schubert is really rather civilized. This works well for the “fillers” on the second disc. The Rondo for Violin and Strings is Schubert at his most charming and sunny, as is the Polonaise. The Concert Piece in D Major is musically more substantial, but definitely not the dark side of Schubert. ‘Civilized’, though, is not an obvious word to characterize the Unfinished Symphony, and many will prefer darker and weightier approaches to the work.

Certainly, Zinman’s performance of the Unfinished is very short on Sturm und Drang. But he does maintain emotional intensity through momentum and steady tempi. His overall pace is very fast, with the two movements coming in at 11’42” and 9’23” respectively (as opposed to 15’00” and 11’35” for Harnoncourt, for example). The approach works best in the Allegro, where the orchestral color and tone emerge very clearly. The Andante moved too quickly for my ear, however, with a loss of dynamic contrast in key sections. To compensate, though, the Tonhalle’s fine playing is captured in excellent sound, with the woodwinds particularly standing out.