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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphonies – No. 2 in D, Op. 36a (1802) [33’01]; No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67b (1808) [35’02]
Manchester Camerata/Douglas Boyd.
Rec. live, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, aFebruary 14th; bOctober 19th, 2002. DDD
AVIE AV0040 [68’12]

Nice to see the (Manchester Camerata ) on disc. This orchestra has long seemed undervalued to me. I well remember a concert (as part of the Hallé concerts season) many years ago now featuring a very musical Mozart 41st and a marvellous Haydn ‘Nelson’ Mass (the soprano soloist, Wendy Eathorne, excelled herself on that occasion).

This disc is offered at super-budget price, yet the presentation values and engineering proclaim something more akin to full-price values. Andrew Keener produces, while Mike Hatch and Simon Eadon engineer (symphonies Nos. 2 and 5, respectively). Even the booklet notes come from a scholarly source, Barry Cooper of the University of Manchester. The recordings were made at the Bridgewater Hall, where the Manchester Camerata holds the title of Chamber Orchestra in Residence. Douglas Boyd is the orchestra’s Artistic Director and Principal Conductor.

Much intensely musical thought and, indeed, preparation, have gone into these performances. There is an all-pervading neatness to ensemble and phrasing that speaks of long rehearsal.

The Second Symphony has long been the neglected one of the Nine, so full marks to the Manchester Camerata and Avie for including it here. It begins in the best possible fashion, with punchy tuttis, neat string ornaments and a tempo that is a well-paced six-in-a-bar. The Allegro con brio exemplifies the neatness referred to above, although it is hard to believe this is a live performance. It just does not have the necessary electric charge, emerging as just that bit workaday. Yet the second movement (Larghetto) is a thing of beauty. The tempo is a comfortable three (its in 3/8) and gentilité is all here. Technically there is much stylish playing, from the woodwind and the horns (the tricky top ‘B’s perfectly managed - a rare passage, allegedly, that Dennis Brain lost sleep over!). But for this to be completely effective, it needs to stand in contrast to the surrounding movements, whereas here the Scherzo is dancing rather than dynamic. Similarly, the finale is more cheeky-chappie than determined, exuding much charm (especially the solo oboe, presumably Rachel Clegg).

The Fifth begins with some authentic ‘decay’ on the held minim (not as pronounced as Norrington on Hänssler, however). In general, in fact, Boyd is preferable to Norrington. There is more life to Boyd’s reading (and at only a fiver Norrington is effectively wiped out of the running). After the Second Symphony, no surprise that the slow movement flows along nicely. Let that not imply a rushed effect, however. There is plenty of suave phrasing, contrasting nicely this time with the very punchy Scherzo (where double-basses scamper impishly and violas excel themselves in agility). What’s more the Finale emerges entirely naturally out of the transition, although when it appears it is once more neat rather than scruff-of-the-neck stuff. The repeat is in place, and the brief snapshot of the third movement is perfectly integrated.

This bodes very well indeed, if there are to be more discs from this orchestra on this label.

Colin Clarke


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