David Zinman / Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra

Schubert: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 6

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Following on his well-received Beethoven and Mahler recordings, conductor David Zinman and the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich have embarked on a Schubert cycle in the same vein: featuring a fresh look at the score, with historical instruments. The latter factor, beyond a few natural horns, doesn't mark a major sonic shift from modern-instrument recordings, and this pair of symphonies from the middle of Schubert's output is less radical than Zinman's recording of the Symphony No. 8 in B minor ("Unfinished"), which featured some blistering tempos. Nevertheless, this is decidedly unusual Schubert. The Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, D. 485, is a gossamer work; the Symphony No. 6 in C major, D. 589, a broader piece that seems to point the way to the Symphony No. 9 in the same key, the "Great" C major symphony. Zinman's aim seems to be to strip away the layers of "Viennese" image that accrued to Schubert by way of retrospective reasoning from Johann Strauss II. His thematic material consists of a series of sharp little attacks, without any concession in the strings to dance rhythms or any phrasing that might suggest them. You'll either find it brisk and bracing or rather unmusical; this is truly a case where your mileage may vary. It may work better in the Symphony No. 6, where the work's abstract quality snaps into focus. And the sound from RCA Red Seal, recorded in the orchestra's own hall, is very fine. But sample well to see whether you like Schubert that is very far out on the dry side.

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