Schubert: Symphony No. 7 "Unfinished" (CD review)

Also, Rondo for Violin and Strings in A Major; Polonaise in B flat Major; Concert Piece in D Major for Violin and Orchestra. Andreas Janke, violin; David Zinman, Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich. RCA Red Seal 88697 95335 2.

The first thing we have to clear up is the numbering. Yes, this is the symphony most of us know as No. 8 in B minor, D. 759, "Unfinished." But sometimes folks number it Schubert's Seventh because of confusion with another of his unfinished symphonies, often referred to also as the Seventh. You would think that by now at least record companies would settle on a common numbering system, and since a majority of people usually think of the "Unfinished" as No. 8, I can't for the life of me understand why companies choose intentionally to obfuscate the issue. It seems to me counterproductive of RCA to confuse their own buying public.

Anyway, Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828) wrote the first two movements of his "Unfinished" Symphony in 1822, and why he never completed it is anybody's guess; he would live for another half a dozen years, so it's not as though he died before he could get it done. Its being unfinished has given any number of composers opportunity over the years to complete it for him and listeners to divine into its incompleteness some higher purpose. Fortunately, most conductors have played the two movements straight and left the reconstructions and suppositions to others. Such is the case here, with Maestro David Zinman and his Tonhalle Orchestra, who perform it on modern instruments but with period designs. Zinman is an old hand at this kind of thing, of course, having successfully negotiated the nine Beethoven symphonies in a like manner to excellent effect. His "Unfinished" is the second disc in a complete Schubert symphony cycle he's doing for RCA Red Seal, with a separate and simultaneous release containing Nos. 1 and 2.

OK, on to the music, and first up it is, indeed, the "Unfinished" Symphony, all two movements of it. Under Zinman, the opening Allegro moderato has mystery, strength, and dash. There is no scurrying around to outdo those who think the period-performance crowd have a lock on the piece nor any dawdling to satisfy those who think of the work as the first truly "Romantic" symphony. Instead, Zinman suffuses the movement with all the drama, glow, and passion one could want, yet he allows it to float along, too, on a most-lyrical plane. I found the first movement quite well done.

Although Zinman takes the Andante con moto at a quicker pace than one usually hears, it never seems rushed. Rather, it sounds vigorous and forceful while at the same time loving and unruffled. One could argue that it loses a little something in poetic delicacy and rhapsodic sentiment in the process; however, it more than makes up for it in dreamy longing and pure, old-fashioned excitement.

Schubert never wrote any full-fledged concertos, but here we find as couplings three of his smaller compositions for violin and orchestra: the Rondo for Violin and Strings in A Major, the Polonaise in B flat Major, and the Concert Piece in D Major for Violin and Orchestra. The Tonhalle Orchestra's soloist and first violinist Andreas Janke makes each piece seem very personal, his realizations filled with soul, so to speak. With excellent, unobtrusive support from Zinman and his players, the three short works come off as pure Schubert--light, airy, melodious, breezy, and completely charming, the Rondo coming off with all the trapping of the composer's "Trout" Quintet.

Yes, the disc is delightful, and it marks an auspicious beginning for Zinman, a Schubert cycle that promises to be as good as his Beethoven, which is saying a lot.

Recorded in May and September of 2011 in Tonhalle Zurich, Switzerland, the sound, too, is excellent. It displays good overall imaging and an especially fine depth of image, with strong dynamic contrasts, and solid impact. The sonics are nicely transparent throughout, big and open and clean. The miking is close but not too close. And one can hear a light, pleasant, resonant air around the instruments that imbues them with a most-lifelike quality.

If this particular disc has any drawback, it's minor in that it contains only a little over fifty minutes of music. I suppose the way RCA have laid out the complete cycle on CD, they have some justification for so brief an album. Besides, it's not the quantity that counts here but the quality, something the disc contains in abundance.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa