The glow of the woodwinds and the potent bass line at the beginning of Symphony No. 4 suggests something special. It’s a promise that holds good for the whole disc. The Royal Flemish Philharmonic is a “modern” orchestra with “authentic” tendencies; you’d expect an informed approach from Herreweghe. But he’s not pedantic and leads articulate and lucid accounts that are crisply and expressively played; woodwinds, brass, and timpani are equal voices with the strings. Herreweghe makes those string parts really speak; the violins exchange dialogue either side of the conductor, and the double basses are always pertinent contributors. There are lovely woodwind solos in the Adagio of No .4—really quite Romantic—a beguiling reverie taken at aRead more flowing tempo, one that nods at authenticity without joining the throng. The Scherzo is a bucolic joy and a model of dovetailing the sections.
While noting the variety of vibrato he introduces, it’s Herreweghe’s sense of tempo and tempo relationships that is particularly successful. His readings are forward moving but not rushed or pressured; the metronome markings are not taken too literally; there is light and shade, and space between the notes, a chance to make music rather than place the notes robotic fashion in the space provided.
There is, then, the spirit of the dance, which is especially applicable to No. 7. I came to Herreweghe’s account with fond memories of a live performance (Barbican Hall, London, June 16) from the Israel Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta: no repeats, moderate tempos, and nine double basses. A tonic! Herreweghe, too, is measured; the force of energy comes from within the music rather than its being applied and pounded. This lively, life-enhancing rendition has time on its side to really get inside the Allegretto’s tread, and the Scherzo and Finale are thrilling without being faceless in speedy tightness. Herreweghe notes the Finale is marked Allegro con brio to the Scherzo’s Presto; it makes a difference (Leonard Bernstein is equally observant in his Vienna recording). With superb recording, it is a pleasure to recommend Herreweghe’s incisive, dynamic, imaginative, and flexible Beethoven. All repeats are observed, although on reaching the end of the exposition of No. 7’s Finale, Herreweghe, presumably intentionally, plays the measures that lead to the development but he actually takes the repeat. Another editorial change? A Herreweghe whim? One hopes it’s not an editing error, for a photo in the booklet suggests that Herreweghe himself is responsible for this aspect of the production!