Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 8 (CD review)
Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is probably the single most recognizable piece of music ever written, at least its first movement, and justifiably so. It combines memorable tunes with tension and drama galore, raises one's spirit, and rushes the adrenaline. Which is exactly the way Philippe Herreweghe approaches it, directing his Royal Flemish Philharmonic Orchestra as he would any of the period-instruments groups he has lead over the years.
Herreweghe's Beethoven Fifth comes over with vigor, with verve, with energy in abundance, as he takes dashing tempos and accents the music at every opportunity with a theatrical panache that never sounds breathless or exhausting. He'll have your blood racing, almost in the way we think of Kleiber (DG) or Reiner (RCA) or the new Barenboim (Warner) doing it but without quite the voltage. OK, maybe it's more like Zinman (Arte Nova), actually, or possibly Norrington (Virgin), which is still saying a lot. Anyway, it is anything but conventional, and I liked it.
PentaTone's sound is also good, whether you choose the regular stereo layer or the slightly cleaner and more dynamic multichannel SACD layer. The sonics remain quite smooth and natural, with plenty of bite and a bass drum that must have been recorded with a mike six inches away.
That said, I didn't care as much for the accompanying Symphony No. 8. While the Fifth is all restive excitement and emotion, the Eighth should be a relative island of repose, replacing the Fifth's spectacle with outright charm. However, Herreweghe seems determined to prove that the Eighth is not as lightweight as some people claim, and I found his reading rather heavy-handed. Even the sound seems too thick for the occasion. Still, having so good a Fifth may be reason enough for rejoicing.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.