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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)
CD 1 [71:41]
Symphony No.4 in B flat, op.60 (1806) [43:26]
Symphony No.7 in A, op.92 (1812) [37:15]
CD 2 [75:09]
Symphony No.5 in C minor, op.67 (1807) [32:03]
Symphony No.6 in F, Pastoral, op.68 (1807) [43:06]
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallisch
rec. 14-15 November 1991 (op.60), 21–23 November 1991 (op.92), 11, 14-15 March 1991 (opp 67; 68). DDD
[71:41 + 75:09] 
Experience Classicsonline

I thoroughly enjoyed these performances!

Sawallisch’s view of the Fourth Symphony is of a work of lighter weight than its companion, which it is, and he knows exactly how to balance the serious and the humorous. And this work is full of humour, especially in its orchestration. The mock heroic slow introduction to the first movement bursts out into a truly joyous account of the allegro – complete with exposition repeat – the orchestra enjoying itself unreservedly. For the slow movement, Sawallisch hits exactly the right tempo and gives the music more depth and feeling than many performances. The minuet races along – try dancing a minuet at this speed! – and the finale is full of fun. 

The Seventh Symphony seems a smaller performance by comparison. I cannot explain this, but perhaps it’s because the Fourth is so good. Having said that it’s a fine piece of work. As with the Fourth, Sawallisch hits exactly the right tempo for each movement and the outer movements truly dance along. Oddly, Sawallisch doesn’t repeat the first movement exposition – but he does in the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies -  which is a shame for the music never reappears in quite the same way and it is helpful to hear it twice at the beginning to get the outline of the music into our heads. OK. A small point I admit and the performance is so fine that, in the long run, it doesn’t matter too much. The slow movement is treated as a true Allegretto and not as some kind of apology for a funeral march. 

The Fifth Symphony starts in a very cool manner but in his conception this allows Sawallisch to build the tension, gradually, right to the end of the first movement. The slow movement sings and the scherzo is full of mystery. The finale, shorn of its exposition repeat, is resoundingly resplendent and is a true victory parade. 

So to the Sixth Symphony. Sawallisch is as pictorial as you could want. The first movement has a real open air quality about it and there is some gorgeous woodwind playing in the second movement – At the Brook. The peasants dance happily and the storm, which isn’t as frightening as some might make it, easily fits into Sawallisch’s scheme of things, moving perfectly into the Thanksgiving Hymn at the end. 

These are fine, classical, performances, well thought out, well played and very enjoyable. Sawallisch doesn’t reach the heights of Carlos Kleiber in his magnificent performances of the Fifth and Seventh Symphonies (Deutsche Grammophon 4474002), which is essential listening and should be on every record shelf, but he does complement Kleiber and give a different view of these works. The dynamic range of the recording is wide and the sound is of the very finest EMI has to offer.

Bob Briggs




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