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Beethoven: Symphonies No 1 & 5 / Haitink, London So

Release Date: 12/12/2006 
Label:  Lso Live   Catalog #: 590   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Bernard Haitink
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.


BEETHOVEN Symphonies: No. 5; 1 No. 1 2 Bernard Haitink, cond; London SO LSO LIVE LSO0090 (57:00) Live: London 4/24–25/2006; 1 4/29–30/2006 2 Read more

The three previously released volumes of this series, comprising Symphonies Nos. 2, 3, 6, and 7, plus the “Triple Concerto” (with No. 7) and Leonore Overture No. 2 (with No. 3), have been reviewed in 29:6, 30:1, and 30:2 by Andrew Quint, Peter J. Rabinowitz, and James Reel, respectively. In general, on this side of the Atlantic, the series has been praised with faint damns, eliciting polite but not overly enthusiastic comment; as is his wont, Haitink is found to be comfortably occupying the middle of the road (in England, the commentary has been little short of ecstatic). A further consideration has been the simultaneous release of the series from Minnesota conducted by Osmo Vänskä on BIS, which has been universally lauded.

I am (yet again) apparently alone in failing to be overwhelmed by the Vänskä performances, so I feel slightly less encumbered than my colleagues; for my comparisons, I revisited two series released over the past few years that also employ the Bärenreiter Edition of the symphonies: those by Claudio Abbado and Simon Rattle on DG and EMI, respectively.

In the First Symphony, Haitink finds a comfortably expansive opening tempo in the first movement; he follows that with a commanding but less purely propulsive allegro con brio ; “vigorously genial” would be my characterization of this movement as a whole. Both Rattle and Abbado make more of the contrast between the two tempos, and both produce music of more dynamism and thrust.

Haitink’s second movement possesses both lyricism and elegance at a tempo not dissimilar from either of the two aforementioned conductors. The Menuetto is practically rambunctious, though the sense of momentum is abetted with a cut in the repeat of the Allegro. There is a playful quality to the delightful finale that certainly earns its vivace . Altogether, I would rate this performance as a solid and very musical one, certainly the equal of its counterparts in the Abbado and Rattle cycles.

Those famous opening notes of the Fifth (which opens the disc) are substantial and not overly portentous; what they aren’t is arresting—that sense of “the shock of the new.” In their very different ways, Benjamin Zander and Simon Rattle managed to convey that feeling of raw creation. On the other hand, Haitink is not mired in the past, and his performance evokes the spirit of period practice while retaining the weight and power of the modern symphony orchestra. The Andante maintains the spirit—and much of the momentum—of the opening movement, without sacrificing the essential elegance at its heart (though, when compared to either Rattle or Abbado, it can sound rushed).

The sinister power of the third movement is captured through a spirited tempo and the impressive playing of the LSO; Haitink’s observance of the cut in the exposition invests the movement with that much more anticipatory tension. The finale arrives in impressive fashion, amid thundering timpani. This performance is close to Rattle’s, who shares with Haitink a sense of the accumulative power of the symphony’s forward progress—there is nothing of the finicky or mannered here.

James Reel commented that, in the recordings of Symphony No. 3 and the Overture, the woodwinds sounded unnaturally spot-miked, while Peter J. Rabinowitz found that the orchestra lacked heft in the recordings of Nos. 2 and 6. I detected little of either problem in these new recordings, though I listened to the stereo CD. For me, the orchestra has plenty of heft and definition, while achieving a natural balance across the soundstage.

Since comparisons are often invidious and counterproductive, let me simply state that this CD contains two impressive performances of very familiar music, expertly played; the pairing alone is unusual enough to merit consideration. Add to that a very impressive sound production and budget price, and I can think of little reason to resist this disc.

FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 1 in C major, Op. 21 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Bernard Haitink
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 04/2006 
Venue:  Live  Barbican Center, London, England 
Symphony no 5 in C minor, Op. 67 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Bernard Haitink
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1807-1808; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 04/2006 
Venue:  Live  Barbican Center, London, England 

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