This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
Once it is accepted that this is going to be—pardon the cliché—old-fashioned classical-romantic Beethoven, there's a lot to enjoy here. Playing is taut, muscular, tense without being uptight, and articulate in a way that observes minute details of phrasing or rhythmic pointing without drawing attention to itself—at times I was reminded of Klemperer (EMI), even though Sawallisch's tempos come generally closer to what most of us nowadays would regard as the norm.
Also like Klemperer, Sawallisch usually sticks to his pulse once he has established it—a slight, brief holding-back at the entry of the second subject in the Fourth Symphony's first movement is exceptional, and neatly judged too. His slow movements also manage to
be expressvie as well as restrained. String phrases in No. 4's Adagio often open out nicely—contrast with angry, trumpet drum enriched outbursts strongly underlined Woodwind phrases in the major-key sections of the Seventh Symphony's Allegretto also rise and fall very naturally, and again contrast, though not over-emphasized, is well engineered. I like the ominous pianissimo in the central fugal section— not quite "Something wicked this way comes", but enough to make the subsequent crescendo that little bit more involving. The abruptness with which the opening wind chord of the Allegretto follows the end of the Vivace (barely a pause) is a bit of a jolt the first time round, but the sudden minor-key contradiction of the previous unclouded A major has dramatic force—an interesting point of view at least.
Now for the minus points. Firstly, there isn't a great deal of humour in these performances. Granted, humour in Beethoven's orchestral music is a relatively recent discovery (though pianists and chamber musicians seem to have been aware of it for years), but I really feel its absence in parts the finale of No. 4—fortunately there is at least a ghost of a smile in the joke at the end. Secondly— well, I hate to sound like a repeat pedant, but I simply don't understand how anyone could want to Omit the second repeat in the scherzo of No 7. Cutting it excises a wonderful harmonic surprise (F major—A—A major!) and in the process obliterates an important large-scale dramatic subtlety: i.e. that the scherzo section is never the same shape twice—for me a clear case of how decreasing the length of a piece can increase its longueurs. Sacrifice any of the other repeats if you must—but please, not this one!
Sermon over. Repeats or no repeats, this is strong, individual Beethoven—as promising a start to a symphonic project as the Giulini Nos. 1 and 7 (Sony, 11/92) wasn't. The recordings are good too— timpani a little boomy in places, otherwise clarity itself, with just enough Concertgebouw ambience. I shall follow this cycle with interest.
-- Gramophone [12/1992]
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 4 in B flat major, Op. 60 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria
Symphony no 7 in A major, Op. 92 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Written: 1811-1812; Vienna, Austria
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