Schubert Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2
There is still a tendency in certain quarters to regard Schubert’s earliest symphonies as nothing more than talented apprentice works, with little of the musical substance that is encountered in the masterpieces he composed at the end of his brief life. This is not, however, the impression gained here in David Zinman’s vibrant and warmly recorded interpretations. Whereas others invariably project easy charm and elegance, Zinman finds deeper, more unsettling resonances in both works. A good example comes in the first movement of the First Symphony where subdued drum rolls take on a sinister character, possibly invoking the turbulent militaristic environment of the final years of the Napoleonic Wars. Equally, few conductors project the restlessness and relentless nature of the outer movements of the Second Symphony as illuminatingly as Zinman.
By encouraging the strings of the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra to use vibrato extremely sparingly, Zinman creates an ideal transparency in Schubert’s scoring, thus allowing much of the delightful filigree woodwind passagework to come to the fore. Likewise, rasping natural horns and trumpets bring extra dynamism to some of the tuttis. Most importantly, the music-making throughout conveys tremendous exhilaration with fast but by no means hard-driven tempos for the outer movements, and flowing lyrically expressive playing elsewhere. Particularly enjoyable is the irresistible Brucknerian swagger of the Second Symphony’s Minuet and the delightfully spontaneous improvisatory elaborations of the woodwind melodies in the Trio.