Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6 (CD review)

Bruno Weil, Tafelmusik. Analekta AN 2 9831.

Beethoven wrote both his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies in 1808 and premiered them together at a concert that any music lover today would give his right arm to have attended. The concert also included a part of the Mass in C, a piano solo, the Choral Fantasy, and the Fourth Piano Concerto, with Beethoven himself at the keyboard for all of the piano work. The present disc does not contain all of that music, just the two symphonies, but I wonder why no enterprising record company hasn't thought of issuing a two-disc set that duplicates that famous occasion.

Anyway, the period-instruments' group Tafelmusik play the two symphonies under the guidance of conductor Bruno Weil. I might have preferred the group's regular music director, Jeanne Lamon, but Weil is a fine conductor in any case. He does something with the "Pastoral" Symphony that most conductors don't manage: He directs a brisk, vigorous, ostensibly "authentic" account without seeming rushed. By comparison, Norrington's groundbreaking period-instruments' rendition (EMI) appears slightly hurried. Weil's Sixth moves along at a healthy clip, yet it seems relaxed; not leisurely, mind you, but tranquil, with the storm nicely rambunctious and the concluding "Shepherd's Hymn" appropriately joyous and consoling.

In contrast, Weil's direction of the Fifth Symphony seems mundane. It, too, moves vigorously along, yet it feels as though it's proceeding too quickly to have much impact. The reading seems almost perfunctory by comparison to people like Kleiber (DG) and Reiner (RCA) on modern instruments and Norrington on period instruments, who make much more of the fate motif and create much more of an impression throughout, especially at the end where the big climax shouts down all else.

One might describe Analekta's sound as either ultrasmooth or ultrasoft, depending upon how generous one wants to be. If your system is at all aggressive or bright, the sound will be ideal; if your system is at all subdued, it may sound mushy. There's nothing wrong with the stereo spread, tonal balance, or orchestral depth, however, all of which are excellent.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa