The brand name RCA-Sony Classics is a guarantee of a quality box set. For example, they have released Toscanini the complete RCA collection, Reiner the complete Chicago Symphony Orchestra recordings, Davis the complete RCA recordings and Verdi, the great recordings. I know, I own them. Therefore, what Sony Classics have done, is to take the best ideas from the box sets I have mentioned, to create the David Zinman 50 CD s set. The proof that Sony have taken trouble over this box set, is that the spines are the colour of the sleeves, so you get Salmon red, Olive green, Prussian blue, grey, then salmon red, black, deep brown,dark green back to Salmon red again. When you look down, the colours blend into a half cube shape. In otherwords, the entire open box becomes an artistic statement.
The box has another placed inside, to strengthen it. Each end has thick black foam rubber to protect the CD's. This might make the box longer, but it adds protection, for you intend to keep it for years. The CD sleeves are made of sturdy cardboard, but will not ruin your CD's. On the front is a painting of the composer and his name, with the symphonies to be played. On the back, CD and track numbers. The colour code is on the sleeve and the entire CD. So the Beethoven symphonies are a salmon red and the Overtures and Piano concerto's of the composer, light Olive green. Mahler Grey and so forth. The CDs have all the details such as the composer, symphony and CD numbers in silver letters. On the sleeve's spine is the CD number, composer, symphony and other pieces to be played. You cannot get lost. The lid can be used to place the Sleeves in when you are playing the CD's.
There is a booklet of 39 pages, giving the Composer, CD number and soloists. There is an essay, "conducting is genius", in German, French and English. With a few pictures of David Zinman with the Tonhalle Orchestra, Zurich. The sound is Stereo/DDD. There are no other details. However, I have played the CDs on my digital player with huge speakers, with and without earphones. Well it is good. I am not a tech head so I cannot go into details. My number on the box is 1218. Like the Britten Decca box, numbers are being printed on each box. Also, you may think the title great symphonies is a bit kitch, but this set is far from that.
David Zinman, born 1936, grew up in New York, where he was influenced by Toscanini's NBC orchestra. He saw Bruno Walter conducting the Beethoven Symphonies in concert. During his period of study with the great Pierre Monteux, the French conductor who conducted Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, he would sneak into some of Klemperer's rehearsals. (Gramophone July 1999) Monteux has conducted the best Franck symphony, Chicago symphony,1961 RCA box set, Living stereo. Beethoven's 9th Symphony and Berlioz's Romeo and Juliet, London Symphony Orchestra 1962.Westminster Legacy box set.
However, to understand Zinman, a little history is required. The Hungarian Nikisch was the model for the young Frenchman Monteux, Swiss Ansermet, Englishman Boult and German Furtwangler; also, Hungarian's Reiner, Dorati and Solti. Nikisch was a mentor to Boult and Reiner, who taught Bernstein. Furtwangler often refered to Nikisch as his only role model. He said, " each and every one of Nikisch's movements, no matter how small, was exclusively aimed at the orchestra in order to be turned into music. I learned the sound from Nikisch, how to work the sound out." Nikisch was the first modern conductor of the century who did away with the traditional image of a time beater. He influenced the contemporary view of a subjective but authoritative orchestral educator who was able to bring out all the musical substance from the score and the orchestra through detailed work. Nikisch conducted the Leipzig and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. He died in 1922. Furtwangler took over. He himself influenced, Barenboim, Abbado, Metha, Tennstedt and Ashkenazy. Did you know Abbado, Metha and Zinman were students together? Anyhow, Nikisch's influence lives on through Zinman via Monteux. Classical Musical History is important you know.
CD 1-13. BEETHOVEN: The reviewer in the July 1999 Gramophone magazine, responded to the brisk tempo's of Zinman. "He considers the symphonies, swift, lean, exhilarating and transparent. The Tonhalle orchestra is exceptional. The recordings compares with their full price rivals" Zinman explains, " I was working out how to make the metronome marks work. However, when you are totally convinced you can make the speeds work, then you conquer the problem." Some of the textual embllishment were not added by Del Mar, but by Zinman himself. The score he used is Barenreiter's new edition. All repeats are observed, so are the majority of Beethoven's metronome markings, by using modern instruments with period awareness. The booklet explains further, the number of string players were reduced; the brass players used old instruments that are not as loud as those generally used today; and the percussionists experimented with wooden drumsticks on smaller timpani. The slimmer overall sound made it possible to turn Beethoven's fast tempi into reality.
BEETHOVEN: The 9th Symphony caught me totally by surprise, so fast was it. I own the Toscanini, Norrington, Gardiner and Australian Mackerras 9 Beethoven symphonies. All have quick tempi, but this was different. From beginning to end, the symphony got faster and faster. This was the way Beethoven wanted it. You could feel his personality, strong, never giving in to fate. Over coming all. However, on a separate track the last half of the finale is given an alternative version, with a pause included towards the end, representing Beethoven's first thoughts, later amended. Track 5, Allegro assai vivace alla Marcia- end. 13.10, track 6, Same. 12.58. Soloists, Ruth Ziesak soprano, Birgit Remmert contralto, Steve Davislim, tenor, Detlef Roth Bass. I thought the Scherchen Beethoven 6th was fast, recorded in 1954, but it was a doddle in the park compared to Zinman. No country folk dancing; they were leaping as if scorched by flames. It is as though my ears have been cleaned and I am hearing these great symphonies as if for the first time.
BEETHOVEN: OVERTURES: Die Geschopfe des Prometheus, Egmont, Coriolan, Leonore No 1, Ruins of Athens, Leonore No 2, Zur Namansfeier, Leonore No 3, Fidelio, King Stephan, Die Weihe des Hauses. The orchestra takes on board the lessons of the period performance in the 11 overtures. MISSA SOLEMNIS: Luba Orgonasova, Anna Larsson, Rainer Trost, Franz-Josef Selig.This is a thrillingly vital performance. I thought the Toscanini Mass was fast and regard it highly, but this Zinman inspired work is even faster. Another favourite of mine, is the DVD of the Missa Solemnis, Luisi conducting the Sachsischen Staatsoper Dresden, at the opening of the Frauenkirche. Singers are Nylund, Remmert, Elsner and Pape 2005. PIANO CONCERTO's 1-5 with Yefim Bronfman piano. He plays very stylishly, with exceptionally clean attack and clarity of articulation. His playing has great elegance and he has a close rapport with Zinman. Bronfman and Zinman offer us a discret and durable Emperior Concerto no 5.. CHORAL FANTASY. TRIPLE CONCERTO. SEPTET. Yefim Bronfman, Gil Shaham, Truls Mork. The triple concerto is related to chamber music. Zinman and his soloists treat it that way, with light clear texture. Truls Mork plays the slow movement with its soaring cello movement with no hint of sentiment. The septet is played in the same manner.VIOLIN CONCERTO and TWO ROMANCES. Tetzlaff. A real winner. Tempo's are brisk. The slow movement is serene. There is no Romantic reverence, for it is a heroic piece with many serene moments. The Romances are played with lyricism.
CD 14-16. BRAHMS: SYMPHONY 1-4. I own the Walter, Klemperer(Live),Kempe, Toscanini and Thielemann,(bluray) Brahms symphonies. I add this gladly to my collection. Zinman builds up the tension, so the tempi gathers momentum. These four symphonies can stand with the best on the market.
CD 17. HAYDN, HUMMEL, DAVID and WAGENSEIL concerto's for trumpet and trombone. The Haydn trumpet has the famous 3rd movement. The Hummel trumpet concerto Andante is sublime.
CD 18-33. MAHLER. According to Egon Wellesz, "Mahler's conducting combined the drive and discipline of Toscanini with the warmth of Bruno Walter." (Musical Companion.) The Blumine was originally part of the five movement Ist Movement, but Mahler took it out. He kept it. The 2nd symphony has soloists, Juliane Banse soprano. She is also a Lieder singer and sings in the Complete Schubert song box set, with Graham Johnson. Anna Larsson contralto. She was Fricka in the Wagner Valencia Ring Cycle. The best symphonies are the 2nd,3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th, then the 4th and 8th symphonies. In the 3rd symphony, Zinman captures the hymnlike last movement, and brings out its sheer beauty. One could say it is a meditation. With Haitink conducting the Berlin Phil, the movement is beauty personified, however, with the young Levine, he makes you weep. Solti, never; Tennstedt, nearly captures that movement, in his studio recording. Soloist in the 3rd symphony, Birgit Remmert, contralto. She sung in the Luisi Beethoven Missa Solemnis, and Daphne, a opera by Richard Strauss on DVD. The 4th symphony. The best performance on record is Reiner's with Della Casa. But Zinman manages to capture the serenity of the 3rd movement. With Luba Orgonasova capturing the childlike innocence of the 4th movement. All in all a good recording. Some of the CDs in this Mahler section are devided into two, so the Ist movement, maybe 20 -30 minutes, are on the first CD, the rest on the second. This means, that you do not have the Mahler symphonies all over the place, as in some box sets.
MAHLER: The 5th symphony, Zinman keeps the tension and swift speeds when required. Zinman captures the famous Adagietto. Levine's 5th symphony Adagietto is an emotional ride over 12 minutes. Mahler played it at over 8 minutes, then the meaning becomes different. The 6th symphony Zinman seems to relate to this symphony. The Andante is beautifully done and the movements are swiftly played 7th Symphony, a very good performance. Allegro opening very fast. Captures the Mahlerian spirit of the piece. 8th symphony, I think it is as good as the Tennstedt studio recording. Soloists Diener-Soprano, Banse -Soprano, Larsson- soprano, Naef and Remmert, contralto's, Griffey -tenor, Powell baritone, Abdrazakov -Bass and Muff- Bass. CD 1 8th symphony has PDF with biographies of the soloists and chorus. 9th Symphony, 3rd movement is swift. 4th Movement, Adagio Bernstein DVD 26.09. Zinman 28.46. This movement is very emotional. Worth having.
MAHLER: 10th Symphony. Deryck Cooke who pieced together Mahler's last unfinished symphony wrote," the work is a five movement symphony, a practiclly unbroken flow of music from beginning to end. It is obvious the work was due for a good deal of revision. Nevertheless, it shows Mahler, far from plunging further into preoccupation with death, was moving towards a vitally creative attitude." Now I have heard the Carpenter and the Cooke version, I think I prefer Cooke conducted by Levine. However, there are those who like the Carpenter. It is always good to have another new version. I am sure die hard Mahlerians will argue over this point. DAS LIED VON DER ERDE. I own the famous Ferrier and Patzak recording 1952, Cond Walter Vienna Philharmonic orchestra. Thorborg and Kullmann, VPO cond Walter 1936. Zinman is right into Mahler's sound World in this work, and on second hearing, the tenor Christian Elsner, is not bad. He was the tenor in the DVD Dresden Missa Solemnis. Susan Graham is good and captures that loss at the end perfectly. BUSONI:Berceuse elegiaque.Purely orchestral.
I am more of the Bernstein, Levine, Solti school, but being totally objective, I can say truthfully, that these Zinman conducted Mahler 10 symphonies are good. I spent a lot of time listening to them, to understand what he is trying to achieve. What I like about them is that, Zinman is emotional and can use swift tempo's when required. His Andantes are but a beautiful dream. He has his own unique Mahler sound world, a mixture of the old school of conducting learnt from Monteux, and period instruments. In much the same way as Abbado and Metha used Furtwangler as a role model.
CD 34-35. MOZART: VIOLIN CONCERTO'S 1-5. HAFFNER SERENADE. Pamela Frank..Violin. She plays with feeling througout the concerto's. Violin Concerto no 3 is well known, and the Andante is heavenly played by Frank. Four of the Concerto's cadenzas by David Zinman.
CD 36-40 SCHUBERT:SYMPHONY 1-8(9th). RONDO FOR VIOLIN AND STRINGS. POLANAISE IN B FLAT MAJOR FOR VIOLIN AND ORCHESTRA. CONCERT PIECE IN D MAJOR FOR VIOLIN AND ORCHESTRA. Violin Andreas Janke. Zinman has the right touch for Schubert Symphonies. Fast tempo's. brings out the wonderous melodies. The quickest recording of the 9th is Toscanini's.The no 5 is made for Zinman and his light touch. I can say that in this symphony he is almost as good as Beecham.
CD 41-42. SCHUMANN: SYMPHONIES 1-4. With readings on the fast side, they are at once fresh, resilent and transparent, defying the old idea of Schumann's thickness of orchestration. Among digital sets there is no finer cycle, whatever the price. Zinman uses period instruments and timpani in these symphonies. This Schumann four symphonies conducted by Zinman, is on a par with the period instrument symphonies conducted by Gardiner.
CD 43-49. RICHARD STRAUSS: Monteux played under the baton of Strauss, so he passed on to Zinman how Strauss liked his works played. Aus italian. Macbeth. Ein Heldenleben. Tod und Verklarung. Don Juan. Till Eulenspiegels lustage Streiche. Also sprach Zarathustra. Eine Alpensinfonie. Festliches Praludium. Metamorphosen. Oboe concerto. Simon Fuchs oboe. Four last songs. Melanie Diener. The singer captures the sheer beauty of the melodies. Zinman understands this piece. Sinfonia Domestica. Paregon. Don Quixote. Cello Romance. Zinman is at home in Strauss, bringing out those beautiful melodies. He is a fine Straussian, as is Kempe and Reiner, who actually knew Strauss and conducted some of his Dresden premieres of his operas.
CD 50. WAGNER IN SWITZERLAND. Die fligende Hollander Overture. Der Frist ist um. Das Rhinegold. Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla. Die Walkure Ride of the Walkure Act 3. Gotterdammerung Siegfried Rhine Journey. Die Walkure Act 3. Leb wohl, du kuhnes herrliches kind. Egils Silins Bass baritone. Zinman conducting of excerpts from the Ring cycle is luminous and almost Italianite.The music almost sings. I wish he had recorded the Ring on Bluray. Silens would make a fine Wotan. I have 11 Wagner Ring cycles on Bluray and DVD. On CD, the Bohm, Solti, Keilberth 1955 Bayreuth Ring, and the 2nd version with Modl. Also,Solti Wagner's operas, Wagner's vision, and Wagner at the Met box sets; full of singers of the past. You could say I am a Wagner fan.
So what is it that makes Zinman different?. He stayed with the same Zurich orchestra for nearly 20 years and created his own unique orchestral sound as did the great conductors, like Reiner and Toscanini. But he is not as great as them of course. Also, Monteux believed in him and made his path possible. Therefore, Zinman is not really a modern conductor as such, but a throw back to the conductors of the past. I hope you enjoy this set as much as I have. The Mahler, Schubert, Schumann, Mozart, Brahms and Beethoven symphonies are brilliant, as well as the other music pieces. Recommended.
REFERENCES:Bacharach,A. Pearce, J. The musical Companion. 1977. Victor Gollancz Ltd, London. Cooke,D. Gustav Mahler, an introduction to his music. 1988. Faber music. Furtwangler-Hall of Fame. Gramophone July 1999. Gramophone year book 2009. Hagmann, P. Conducting is genius. 2014. Sony Classics. Lebrecht, N. The Maestro Myth. 1997. Pocket books. Penguin Year Book 2008.