Yehudi Menuhin had lost most of his virtuoso technique in later life and shifted his emphasis from the violin to conducting. His efforts were restricted mostly to impromptu groups like the Bath Festival Orch. and the Menuhin Festival Orch. But as this bargain two-fer shows, a bootstrap conductor and talented pickup musicians can do wonders. The secret is Menuhin's musicianship--even imparted by amateur podium technique, the spirit of Schubert shines through.
The early symphonies are well suited to chamber forces. Schubert scored for the same numbers that Haydn and Mozart used, but even in Sym. #1 he had semi-heroic ambitions. Menuhin escapes the pitfall of sounding dainty and cautious. His allegros generally have real attack and force. In the slow movements he is mostly quick and lilting, and his Minuets likewise. You won't semse the dark shadows that emrege under Harnoncourt, not to mention the Concertgebouw's polish amd gleaming tone, but you won't hear Karajan's fat textures and inflated phrasing, either.
Perhaps because Menuhin wasn't a finished condcutor, these performances have been also-rans in the Schubert catalog. They deserve better, even though at times (e.g., the first movement of the Fifth) there's a tendency toward underplaying and sticking to the same mezzo forte dynamics. It's quite a trick to get six symphonies onto two CDs--a lot of repeats are skipped. Even if I won't turn to Menuhin for the ultimate interpretations, he warmly evokes summer music in halcyon times.