Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6 (CD review)

Bruno Weil, Tafelmusik. Analekta AN 2 9831.

Beethoven wrote both his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies in 1808 and premiered them together at a concert that any music lover today would give his right arm to have attended. The concert also included a part of the Mass in C, a piano solo, the Choral Fantasy, and the Fourth Piano Concerto, with Beethoven himself at the keyboard for all of the piano work. The present disc does not contain all of that music, just the two symphonies, but I wonder why no enterprising record company hasn't thought of issuing a two-disc set that duplicates that famous occasion.

Anyway, the period-instruments' group Tafelmusik play the two symphonies under the guidance of conductor Bruno Weil. I might have preferred the group's regular music director, Jeanne Lamon, but Weil is a fine conductor in any case. He does something with the "Pastoral" Symphony that most conductors don't manage: He directs a brisk, vigorous, ostensibly "authentic" account without seeming rushed. By comparison, Norrington's groundbreaking period-instruments' rendition (EMI) appears slightly hurried. Weil's Sixth moves along at a healthy clip, yet it seems relaxed; not leisurely, mind you, but tranquil, with the storm nicely rambunctious and the concluding "Shepherd's Hymn" appropriately joyous and consoling.

In contrast, Weil's direction of the Fifth Symphony seems mundane. It, too, moves vigorously along, yet it feels as though it's proceeding too quickly to have much impact. The reading seems almost perfunctory by comparison to people like Kleiber (DG) and Reiner (RCA) on modern instruments and Norrington on period instruments, who make much more of the fate motif and create much more of an impression throughout, especially at the end where the big climax shouts down all else.

One might describe Analekta's sound as either ultrasmooth or ultrasoft, depending upon how generous one wants to be. If your system is at all aggressive or bright, the sound will be ideal; if your system is at all subdued, it may sound mushy. There's nothing wrong with the stereo spread, tonal balance, or orchestral depth, however, all of which are excellent.


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