Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 8,
Rondo A. Polonaise B?. Concertpiece in D
David Zinman, cond; Andreas Janke (vn); Zurich Tonhalle O
RCA 88697 953352 (51:50)
Released alongside his bracing disc of Schubert’s first two symphonies comes David Zinman’s account of the “Unfinished,” here correctly albeit confusingly labeled the Seventh. Competition is naturally fiercer, although versions on period instruments are surprisingly thin on the ground.
(The Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra employs modern instruments but period practice.) With its turbulent, brooding development sections, the “Unfinished” feels amazingly like a late-Romantic work, at home in the big, sweeping orchestral style of Brahms, and so anyone used to the classic versions from Böhm, Karajan, and Carlos Kleiber will find the initial cleanness of Zinman’s approach quite startling, although he is not nearly as historically puritan as the likes of Roger Norrington or Christopher Hogwood.
Although Zinman does rush occasionally in the first movement, he sustains the tension and multiple climaxes well, and delivers those shocking dynamic contrasts without ruining the slowly built-up developments. The Tonhalle’s woodwinds are stunning here, biting and expressive, and making many a rival version feel rather blended and dull. The second movement is also beautifully played, although at such a nippy tempo the second subject does feel rushed. Nevertheless, the flow and sincerity are impressive in a movement that many drag out and turn maudlin. Certainly this is an “Unfinished” with which to savor all of Schubert’s conflicting musical layers, and yet, as on the previous Schubert disc, Zinman manages this textual precision without sacrificing warmth and body in the sound. I would not want to be without a big, modern-instrument version, like Kleiber’s with the Vienna Philharmonic, but Zinman’s Schubert is as refreshing as first hearing Beethoven played on period instruments.
What makes the disc more appealing still are the unusual couplings. Although we will forever lament the surprising lack of a violin or indeed any concerto from Schubert, these sweet little works for violin and orchestra are some consolation. Lightweight early works they may be, but they do genuinely have enough thematic substance to make one wish Schubert had developed the scores into a full-blown concerto. The Rondo, especially, is the equal of anything from Mozart’s violin concertos. The Polonaise is a diverting little nothing, but the weightier Konzertstück really should be played more often. With lovely solo playing from the Tonhalle’s concertmaster, Andreas Janke, this makes a fascinating contrast to the symphony’s dark complexity.
Historically informed this may be, but Zinman is not a vibrato fascist and despite the punchy dynamics and fast tempi, there is a sense of breadth and line throughout this disc, with none of that itchy, belabor-a-point fussiness that kills a lot of period playing. Although Zinman didn’t convince me in the Mahler I’ve heard him in, this Schubert series proves him to be a master of the classical form, as vibrant and winning as on his Beethoven and Schumann series. RCA’s sound is full, warm, and detailed, although predictably the dynamic range is so ridiculously wide that the
opening of the “Unfinished” Symphony only registers fully with the sound turned up. Otherwise, this is a quality release with excellent booklet notes, and it looks set to change Schubert’s reputation as a second-class symphonist.
FANFARE: Barnaby Rayfield
Works on This Recording
Konzertstück for Violin in D major, D 345 by Franz Schubert
Andreas Janke (Violin)
Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra
Written: 1816; Vienna, Austria
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