Notes and Editorial Reviews
Gutsy, powerful, vivid – this Mancunian Beethoven is something quite special
A surprise hit from Manchester (nothing against the Camerata’s skills or reputation, but in this core repertoire there is a heck of a lot of more famous competition)! Here are chamber-sized Beethoven performances that burst with character and drive. A fresh, exciting disc to place on the shelf alongside the best.
-- Gramophone [12/2008]
class="ARIAL12b">Symphonies: No. 4;
Douglas Boyd, cond; Manchester Camarata
AVIE 2169 (73:41) Live: Manchester 2/3/2007;
The performance of the Fourth Symphony opens with an expansive, lugubrious Adagio, which effectively establishes a somber, melancholy mood, heightening the transition to the Allegro vivace, which is all the brighter by contrast—sprightly, energetic but not overly muscular; Boyd is sensitive to Beethoven’s playfulness as well as his vigor. Beethoven’s most assertive slow movement receives a dramatic, if somewhat fastidious, reading: the conductor sacrifices some power for precision, but captures the spirit of the music. This is followed by an Allegro vivace that is high-spirited and animated, its repeats intact. The finale revisits the powerfully playful mood of the opening Allegro; the Manchester orchestra turns in a bravura performance.
Boyd’s performance is similar in tempo and overall conception to Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s Fourth with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (Teldec—apparently deleted). By contrast, both Paavo Järvi (RCA) and Charles Mackerras (Hyperion—complete set only) pace their performances more briskly, shaving several minutes off the first two movements; both conductors also employ antiphonal seating for the violins, which I prefer. The Avie recording has more relative heft than Järvi’s light-toned SACD production, however, and I prefer Boyd’s performance.
Boyd establishes a convincing contrast between the
tempos in the opening of the Seventh, establishing a comfortable but exhilarating pace for the latter, at the same time avoiding the headlong rush of Järvi, exciting as his may be. The Allegretto is somber but steadfast, the sound complementing the rich, resonant lower-string tones; the reassuring second theme is just as convincing.
Unfortunately, Boyd yields to the temptation to reverse the tempos of the last two movements: the third movement is thus a vivacious Allegro, the finale an almost breathless Presto. The two statements of the Trio in the former are an engagingly commanding “corrective” to the impudence of the movement’s main theme. The aforementioned finale is impressively played, but for all of its exuberance it’s not what Beethoven indicated. That caveat aside, this is an impressive performance of the Seventh Symphony; the Camarata is obviously no competition for Kleiber’s VPO or Karajan’s Berlin Philharmonic in full cry—nor is it intended to be; theirs is a convincingly powerful account nonetheless.
Of recent recordings for chamber orchestra, two conductors have provided further evidence that knowledge of period-instrument practice can produce vital and entertaining performances on modern instruments. Philippe Herreweghe and Paavo Järvi have added recordings of this pair to their respective symphony cycles. Colin Anderson welcomed the Herreweghe in 29:2; I have yet to hear that performance (though I have enjoyed the other discs in that series), but I would rate this new Manchester performance more favorably than Järvi’s, and I much prefer the sound on the Avie disc.
FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 4 in B flat major, Op. 60 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 2/3/2007
Venue: Live Manchester, England
Symphony no 7 in A major, Op. 92 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Written: 1811-1812; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 11/3/2007
Venue: Live Manchester, England
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