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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony no. 5 in C minor, op. 67, Symphony no. 7 in A major, op. 92
Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie/Edouard Lindenberg
Record 1969-70, location not given
APEX 0927 49798 2 [68:57]



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At first sight this might look like one of those dubious bargain basement issues where standard repertoire is flung at the public under a conductor with an obviously manufactured but very conductorly-sounding name. Notes and information obviously kept to a minimum. But no, there are notes on the music here stretching to over four pages of fine print in three languages (though Iím not sure they actually say very much) and a page dedicated to the conductor, so here goes!

Romanian born Edouard Lindenburg (1908-1973) studied conducting with Herman Scherchen and Franz Schalk and became conductor of the Bucharest Philharmonic till he left for Paris in 1947. He was the first foreign conductor to perform Pelléas et Mélisande at the Paris Opera House and later became a naturalised (or, as the otherwise acceptably translated notes quaintly put it, "nationalised") Frenchman. As well as conducting the main French orchestras he conducted in Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, Israel, Germany (with the Berlin Philharmonic, among others), Czechoslovakia, Austria and Japan. He was also a teacher whose pupils include Marius Constant, Sergiu Commisiona, Seiji Ozawa and Jean-François Paillard, the author of several books on musicology and twice winner of the Grand Prix du Disque. The notes conclude that he left "a heritage of exceptional works and recordings, all of which have been highly acclaimed by critics and loved by audiences everywhere". It is not the first time I find myself reading of an artist who has apparently set the world on fire without the rest of the world, so to speak, even noticing it. In this case Anglo-American provincialism may come into play since two of the countries signally missing from the above list are Great Britain and the United States, so perhaps Edouard Lindenberg really is a name to conjure with in much of Europe. In any case, I have never been a member of the "if-Iíve-never-heard-of-him-he-canít-be any-good" brigade, so what has he to offer in this much recorded repertory?

Firstly, I was struck by the very clear articulation of the strings and a general avoidance of thick textures. Thus the first movement of no. 5, while not all that much faster than Klemperer (in 1955) or Keilberth (Lindenburg: 7:55, Klemperer: 8:05, Keilberth: 8:43) is more bracing and forward moving, but without the driven quality of Erich Kleiberís famous reading (7:18). It has to be said that, while the conductor has obviously worked thoroughly with the orchestra over articulation and phrasing, the performances sound more "live" than "studio" (far more live than the Harnoncourt performances which really are live) with several slips left in, but with a feeling of spontaneity and enjoyment.

The Andante con moto is taken rather broadly (10:46 against Klempererís 10:07 and Keilberthís 10:12) but with some attractive woodwind playing and again, no heaviness. Indeed, the fortissimo outburst at b.185 is rather underwhelming Ė weight of string tone does not seem to be this orchestraís strongest point, but I have the idea Lindenburg does not want to lay it on too thickly. A little touch I liked was bar 45 where the conductor has noted that the wind semi-quavers have suddenly stopped being marked staccato and he has them played really legato. The Scherzo is good with a trio which avoids elephantine attack from the double basses and starts relatively lightly and crisply. Best of all is the finale, rather broad (the half-bar is slower than a bar of the Scherzo, as Beethoven requested) but lively and free of pomp (9:30 compared with Keilberthís 8:51; Klempererís timing is meaningless as he gives the repeat which the other two donít, but he is slower than Keilberth in this movement). The spontaneous nature of the performance perhaps gets out of hand in the coda where the trumpet is allowed to blast out his theme in a way that might be thought a little vulgar (and it doesnít help that his instrument has gone sharp).

I liked the 7th better still. After a notably even-paced introduction the first movement proper is pretty swift. In some hands this can result in a fudging of the dotted rhythms but not here. Lindenburgís ability to produce spontaneous results in the studio means that things get very upfront at times, the whole orchestra collectively taking off. Things donít get out of control but they sound to be within a whisker of doing so.

The second movement is grave rather than tense, and particularly attractive in its more pastoral episodes, which are well related to the basic tempo. The Scherzo is buoyant with a trio that does not drag. After the ghastly hash Harnoncourt made of the finaleís main theme (completely obscuring it with the wind and brass accents) itís nice to hear it ideally presented here and yes, the sforzatos on the wind and brass are observed, itís just that they donít dominate all else. This is also, incredibly, the only performance Iíve heard where the tempo is not suddenly whipped up at bar 20 and similar passages. So general is this habit that I had begun to wonder if my rhythmic sense was not at fault and I was imagining a speed change which had not taken place. So be warned; if, after the swift opening, several passages sound slower than usual, this is what Beethoven wrote.

In one sense these are performances of their time; they are pretty short on repeats (the only big repeat done is in the first movement of no. 5) and accept the traditional changes to the instrumentation (horns not bassoons heralding the recapitulation of the second subject in this same movement). Perhaps I have been over-praising them. They are not exactly Great with a Capital Letter, but I think theyíll come off my shelf fairly often. The orchestra actually seems to be enjoying itself, so when I want to enjoy Beethoven rather than be brow-beaten by him Iíll listen to this. Why is it that the sheer idea of "enjoyment" in the Great Classics arouses a guilt-complex in us? Rather as if I were recommending Beethoven performances for people who prefer reading Agatha Christie to "War and Peace". Heaven help us! Get out your Klemperers, folks, and take your medicine like strong men!

Christopher Howell



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