Zender – Schubert and Webern

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.1 in D
Symphony No.4 in C minor (Tragic)
Variations for Orchestra, Op.30

SWR Symphony Orchestra of Baden-Baden and Freiburg
Hans Zender

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: October 2001
Duration: 72 minutes

For anyone drawn to interpretations that respect composers’ intentions while radiating personality, and without being literal or expressively restricted, then Hans Zender should be among your choices of conductor.

Born in 1936, Zender would, I believe, count himself first and foremost a composer. For convenience, but such a term shouldn’t be taken as being the whole story, I’ll nominate him a Modernist. Certainly in his original compositions he requires intelligent, open-minded listening as to music’s boundary-breaking qualities. He’s also consistently drawn to music’s great heritage, when a composer becomes re-creator: his controversial orchestral commentaries on Schubert’s Winterreise and Schumann’s piano Fantasie (Op.17) are fascinating and extraordinarily imaginative.

As conductor he has a wide repertoire – Mozart, Schumann, Reger, Mahler, Debussy and a host of his (our) contemporaries. He’s a musician who reads a score with an X-ray focus as to its structure. As a Schubert interpreter, Zender doesn’t prettify the music; rather his analysis of notation, of symphonic bearing and resolution, is brought to aural life. Thus, Schubert’s debut symphony isn’t just a charming exercise in melody and agreeable coloration but a fully formed contrapuntal web of emotion and individual expression. Zender’s attention to detail, especially relating to harmonic fundament and line and accompaniment, immediately grabs attention; balancing of chords, motivic relationships and clarity of scoring – the timpani roll from 1’04” in the slow introduction for example – all display a care for the absoluteness of Schubert’s writing.

Should all this be frightening you off from lying back and ’enjoying’ the music, then the invitation is to dialogue with Schubert’s seemingly spontaneous declaration with a heightened appreciation of its entirety.

Schubert’s limitlessness in expressing human endeavour through melody is enhanced by Zender revealing a tighter constructional sense, and a composer whose harmonic thinking is daring. Zender builds the coda to No.1’s first movement (from 8’26”) adroitly, letting the passion peak by degrees and emphasising the high level of dissonance in climactic chords.

Lest I mislead you that Zender is a stony-hearted, robotic-beating maestro incapable of shapely lyricism, then the succeeding ’Andante’ is mellifluously turned; a real heart pumps here as Schubert’s light and shade is instinctively espoused. The Minuet – a dance-form emphasising Schubert’s Classical ties – is poised and courtly, the Trio a delight. The perfectly pace (unhurried) finale is articulate and attractive, the movement’s tempo determined by allowing phrases to ’speak’, not whipped into a superficial razzle-dazzle.

In the ’Tragic’, Zender similarly melds innate musical responsibility with understanding of Schubert’s inner perceptions – this No.4 is shadowy and tormented, the Allegro vivace notched back in tempo to advantage; the finale, broader than usual (but with compensatory clarity of textual small print), carries a burden. Zender observes outer-movement repeats in No.4 (he doesn’t in No.1) and in doing so intensifies the design; this speaks volumes for his long-term thinking. Charges of dourness are rejected because Zender has an enviable control of emotional ebb-and-flow: the subito accelerando at 9’05” in the first movement brings a real release of tension. The slow movement, warmly and tenderly sounded, is contrasted by the gawky, pungently scored Minuet and lilting Trio.

Webern’s final orchestral work, food and drink to Zender, is given with lucid expertise … Op.30 becomes as essential as Schubert. With Zender at the helm musical barriers are eroded – Webern and Schubert co-habit naturally.

The sweet and responsive playing of the Baden-Baden Orchestra enjoys fine studio sound. Hänssler: more Zender if you please.

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