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: