Schubert: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 6 (CD review)

David Zinman, Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich. RCA 88725 46336 2.

Maestro David Zinman continues his excellent series of Schubert symphony recordings with this coupling of Nos. 5 and 6, leaving as of this writing only No. 9 to release. Maestro Zinman and the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich bring to the music their usual enthusiasm, insight, expertise, and lively style, Zinman basing his recordings, according to RCA, “on the original editions of the scores, using 19th century instruments, and paying heed to historic performing practice.”

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) never saw his Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, D. 485 (1816) played in his lifetime, the work not getting a performance until 1846, many years after his death. This seems surprising to me because the Symphony No. 5 is one of the composer’s most-delicate, most-delightful creations, yet like his other symphonic work, he never published it.

So, how is Zinman’s handling of the Fifth? When did you ever hear David Zinman turn in a mediocre performance? Never? Thought not. Here, he is not quite as genial as Sir Thomas Beecham, who with his EMI stereo recording practically owns the rights to the music, but Zinman is appealing in his own right, making up for any lack of cordiality with rhythmic incisiveness and dynamic flow. There is a wonderful Mozartian lilt in every movement, making the whole symphony a constant pleasure. What’s more, there is an especially scherzo-like bite to the Minuetto, and Zinman’s way with the finale is vibrant and radiant, just as it should be, if at a quicker pace than usual.

Schubert wrote his Symphony No. 6 in C major, D589 in 1818, and people today call it the “Little C Major” to differentiate it from No. 9, the “Great C Major.” Schubert finished No. 6 just after his twenty-first birthday, so it’s still a youthful work from a man who died young; in that regard, I suppose all of Schubert’s work is “young.” Certainly, much of it carries a pleasing, youthful spirit, even if Schubert intended his Symphony No. 6 to be weightier than No. 5.

In the Sixth we find Schubert more in a Rossini-style mode, with an increased orchestral size and a grander design than in the simpler Fifth, the Sixth coming as a direct contrast to the lighter, scaled-back dimensions of its predecessor. Still, there is much in Zinman’s interpretation to remind us that this is Schubert, after all, the music brimming over with grace, beauty, and civility. Zinman’s zesty rendering of the Rossini-like finale sounds particularly beguiling and bounces along in a cheerful, rousing fashion.

The recording engineers made the album in September of 2012 at Tonhalle, Zurich, Switzerland, obtaining much the same fine sound they have been getting all along in their Schubert series. The sonics are nicely full and wide, if a tad flat dimensionally, the balance smooth and the dynamics fairly robust. There is also good bass and treble extension, more than adequate impact, and decent enough transparency. A slight warmth and a hint of hall resonance add to the sound’s easy listenability.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa