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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphonies - No. 4 in B flat, Op. 60 (1806); No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 (1808); No. 6 in F, Op. 68, ‘Pastoral’(1808)
SWR Symphony Orchestra Baden-Baden and Freiburg/Michael Gielen.
Rec. Konzerthaus, Freiburg, December 1997 (Nos. 5; 6) and January 2000 (No. 4). DDD
EUROARTS 2050639 [114’00]

The Fourth Symphony is given in front of what almost looks like a half-audience. A shame for this is a very good reading indeed. Despite some teething problems in the slow introduction to the first movement (it is also just too fast to maintain the requisite tension), it's nice to hear the end of the introduction exactly in tempo, and the ensuing allegro vivace has plenty of vim.

‘Nice’ seems to describe Gielen’s view of the Fourth, a slender but ever so slightly plain Grecian maiden. It is easy to admire the woodwind contributions to the flowing Adagio, but how far do we really enter Beethoven’s world. Far better is the way the generally gentle third movement contrasts with the busy finale, replete with thunderous fortes.

Something of a missed opportunity on the visual side at the beginning of the Fifth, recorded two years earlier. Just how to conduct that opening has been a subject of heated debate for conductors. A pity we shall never know Gielen’s take; it is a different kettle of fish on the repeat, of course, with the tempo already well-established. We get a nice shot of the double-basses instead.

Gielen’s is a strong reading, if not grippingly involving along the lines of a Carlos Kleiber, for example. There is nevertheless a tensile strength that underpins the experience and contrasts with the nicely shaped if slightly superficial slow movement. Again the third movement proves to be a turning point, here robust and with a good sense of drama. There is distinct energy about the finale given complete with repeat. The coda does work, the feeling of the live event no doubt contributing.

Gielen’s idea of ‘Áwakening of Cheerful Memories’ is clearly different from mine. No hanging about, this first movement of the ‘Pastoral’ is as brisk as they come. There is a nice use of camera angle, so that one can watch Gielen as if one were a back-desk violinist. A good idea, as sometimes someone who appears clear from the audience view-point may be anything but from the players’ aspect, and vice-versa, of course. Gielen appears expressive and clear, in the event. However, the emotion conveyed is determined rather than happy.

The ‘Scene by the brook’; is a leisurely, eloquently-conducted four-to-a-bar. Woodwind again impress in the ‘Merry Gathering of Country-Folk’ third movement, with a lovely, perky oboe although horns could be more from the chase. A dramatic storm leads to a structural miscalculation though. The finale is not the release of some. Good that the trombones are visually highlighted as they represent an important aspect of the progressive scoring of this work


Overall, not the follow-on from Volume 1 of Gielen’s cycle I had hoped for. There are not enough moments of beauty, not enough sections of real grit and above all not enough vision from the conductor to merit a recommendation.

Colin Clarke

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