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Beethoven: Symphonies No 5 And 8 / Herreweghe, Et Al

Release Date: 11/20/2007 
Label:  Pentatone   Catalog #: 5186316   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Philippe Herreweghe
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Flemish Philharmonic
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
Length: 0 Hours 59 Mins. 

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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; No. 8 Philippe Herreweghe, cond; Royal Flemish P PENTATONE 5186 316 (Multichannel hybrid SACD: 54:16)

This disc represents Volume 2 of a set of the complete Beethoven symphonies currently in progress (the first volume, on the Talent label, included Symphonies Read more 4 and 7 and was reviewed by Colin Anderson in 29:2). In a clumsily translated note Herreweghe refers to “nature” trumpets and “Baroque kettle drums with modern tuning”; these would appear to be the only concessions to period practice—by all accounts, the Royal Flemish orchestra employs modern instruments. This series would appear, then, to be comparable to the latest set conducted by Roger Norrington, with the orchestra of the Stuttgart Radio, on Hänssler.

Unlike Norrington, Herreweghe is unhampered by a tendency toward extreme tempos or self-conscious gestures. Though the tempos of the Fifth Symphony are analogous in swiftness to those of Benjamin Zander on his splendid Telarc recording, there is no sense of the kind of schizoid recklessness that marred Norrington’s Fifth, in which a furious first-movement exposition followed a more sensibly paced opening motto. What we hear instead is a superbly performed and exciting rendering of Beethoven’s war-horse. Orchestral execution is everything one could wish for, with crisp phrasing and spirited ensemble. The conducting illuminates the genius of the conception without in any way calling attention to itself.

In the slow movement, Herreweghe expertly conveys the sense of forward momentum without scrimping on the lyrical richness of Beethoven’s melodic invention. There is no sense of bombast in the triumphant finale, just a very satisfying feeling of rightness—for Beethoven’s creation and for this recreation of it. Herreweghe includes the first movement exposition repeat but follows Beethoven’s revision and eliminates the one in the Scherzo. The sound is resonant yet precise, antiphonal violins aiding in the natural balance. The listener’s perspective is intimate but not airless, allowing for atmosphere and impact. One interesting anomaly: the oboe extends the cadenza in the first movement recapitulation, replacing the one Beethoven wrote, but I found this to be an interesting and idiomatic gesture.

Herreweghe injects a muscular element, propelled by the timpani, into the Eighth Symphony, invigorating what has sometimes in the past been simply a lighthearted romp; there is lightness here, too, but the overall feeling is of vitality. Norrington, by contrast, tends to lurch through the first movement, so that whatever humor there is seems heavy-handed. The sound production he received possesses less resonant fullness than that on the PentaTone disc; strings, for one example, often sound thin and scrappy on the Hänssler CD.

The elegant little Allegretto, under Herreweghe’s hands, verges on the slightly pompous, while the third movement minuet becomes, for all intents and purposes, a scherzo, full of badly placed accents and miscues—all of which, in the words of annotator Tom Janssesns, “indicated that the Classical symphony now truly belonged to the past.” We are then propelled into the finale and its sprightly touches that clearly point to the future, and especially to Mendelssohn. Herreweghe and his Belgian colleagues dispatch the piece with panache.

This is a delightful and highly entertaining disc containing two fine performances of music that never sounds tired or routine. I look forward to the next installment with keen anticipation.

FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 5 in C minor, Op. 67 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Philippe Herreweghe
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Flemish Philharmonic
Period: Classical 
Written: 1807-1808; Vienna, Austria 
Venue:  Frits Philips Music Center, Eindhoven 
Length: 32 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Notes: Frits Philips Music Center, Eindhoven (06/09/2007 - 06/10/2007) 
Symphony no 8 in F major, Op. 93 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Philippe Herreweghe
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Flemish Philharmonic
Period: Classical 
Written: 1812; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 06/04/2007 
Venue:  Frits Philips Music Center, Eindhoven 
Length: 26 Minutes 31 Secs. 

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