Schubert The Symphonies-Yehudi Menuhin
Yehudi Menuhin’s refreshing, well-pointed readings of the late Mozart symphonies on Virgin Classics (3/90) were what first alerted us to the special relationship he has with the Sinfonia Varsovia, successor to the Polish Chamber Orchestra. Then a couple of years ago his lively recordings with them of the complete Beethoven symphonies appeared on Carlton (4/96). This cycle of Schubert symphonies is more impressive still, with performances electrically tense, generally at brisk speeds, with an easy feeling for Schubertian lyricism, helped by the alert, ripely responsive playing and full, immediate recording.
With Menuhin there is no question of the early symphonies, boyhood works often described as Haydnesque, being mistaken for eighteenth-century music. Though the string complement is modest, these are interpretations that bite home strongly, so that such a movement as the Scherzo of the
Speeds in the new versions of the early symphonies are very similar to those before, but if anything just a shade faster. What is strikingly different is that with more sharply focused as well as more atmospheric digital sound, the performances have extra point and bite, consistently sounding tauter. So in No. 3 the outer movements at brisk speeds have extra assurance in the Polish performances, with the second movement Allegretto lighter as well as brisker this time. Not that Menuhin is at all rough-mannered in his treatment of Schubert, even if he avoids mere charm. Such a difficult passage as the opening
With the last two symphonies the approach remains consistent in its freshness, in its preference for fast, steady speeds, but aptly the weight is greater. The performance of the
With alert playing throughout and a forward, well-balanced recording which allows the wind and brass to have full impact, this is a set to attract those who, while sympathizing with the aims of period performance, prefer to have modern instruments. The disappointment is not to have Menuhin’s conversation in English: the supplementary disc offers it in German only. There is a printed English translation of what is said, but as the musical illustrations are not well signposted, its value is limited for the non-German speaker.'