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Friday, March 8, 2013

David Zinman & the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich / Joshua Bell & Academy of St. Martin in the Fields

Schubert Symphonies Nos. 5 & 6 (RCA Red Seal) / Beethoven’s Symphonies No. 4 & 7 (Sony Classics)

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The Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich under David Zinman has gradually been recording Franz Schubert’s symphonies through the RCA Red Seal label. Schubert just passed 30 when he died in his hometown, Vienna, which in his day, the early 19th century, represented a powerful concentration of creativity. Mozart was still a living memory and Beethoven was an older contemporary. Schubert was brilliant and prolific, writing music furiously until death cut him short.

Zinman-Tonhalle’s latest CD pairs Schubert’s symphonies 5 and 6. Although written relatively early, they show great proficiency and elegant sweep, suggesting an evening of dancing on the polished parquet floor of a gilt-edged ballroom. The American Zinman has conducted the highly proficient Tonhalle Orchestra, Switzerland’s oldest, since 2010.

Schubert and Beethoven not only shared a city but a music teacher, Antonio Salieri, Mozart’s much-maligned foe in the entertaining but factually dubious film Amadeus. The remarkable violinist Joshua Bell is responsible for a new recording of Beethoven’s symphonies 4 and 7—as conductor and concertmaster of London’s Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. With Beethoven, in contrast to Schubert, one can hear symphonic music abstracted from its origins in courtly entertainment and standing as pure music. The Academy is a relatively small orchestra, its 40 members performing on a chamber-like scale Beethoven would have recognized, allowing the contours of the compositions to standout sharply without distraction.