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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 (1805) [32:50]
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92 (1812) [36:10]
Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela/Gustavo Dudamel
rec. Aula Magna, Ciudad Universitaria, Caracas, February 2006
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 00289 477 6228 [69:07]

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I was browsing in my local HMV store in Oxford when I heard familiar strains of Beethoven’s Fifth. I was struck immediately by the vitality of this rendition. Enquiring about the conductor I was amazed by his youth and the fact that DG had signed up an unknown to conduct two warhorses. I walked out of the store with the CD and must say how pleased I have been to have had the opportunity to hear this wonderful recording. Agreed, the world may not need another coupling of Beethoven 5 and 7 but when it’s this good I’ll make an exception.


The Fifth’s first movement shows evidence of influence from the “Authentic” school whilst retaining the robustness of the established view. There is a complete freshness apparent and the slow movement quite bowled me over. This is complemented by marvellous wind playing and the strings are brilliant too. There’s no turgidity but appropriate pathos and style is interwoven. The recording is also very fine.


These symphonies are music of youth and appropriately in the third movement there is great excitement and not a hint of routine. The large orchestra certainly makes a huge impact. The transition into the finale is tremendous and as it develops the compulsive energy of this masterpiece shines through. I haven’t enjoyed a Fifth so much since Tennstedt’s masterful performance at the Proms in 1990; both the original broadcast on my son’s third birthday and the recording (see review).

A few weeks ago friends of ours joined us for a few drinks and we ended up playing about ten versions of the first movement of Beethoven’s Seventh. Sadly we didn’t have time for the other ten! Going from Toscanini’s wonderful New York Philharmonic of 1936 (RCA) to Rattle and the BPO (EMI) the winner was Carlos Kleiber on DG, similarly coupled as this disc; followed by Furtwängler (M&A)!

Dudamel’s is a splendid recording and I look forward to playing it often; it has such a “live” feel. I think I know the different versions of this piece more than any other symphony; even my beloved “Pastoral” and I was much struck by the vitality again and the vibrancy even if ultimately it is founding wanting in the depth I crave; but this may well change after repeated hearings.  If we were to place this recording I’d put it just below Kleiber, Toscanini and Furtwängler but what an accolade for a young conductor and his marvellous orchestra. There is tremendous forward thrust in the first movement, suitable reflective playing in the slow movement and the wonderful third gets a great treatment. The famous “dancing yaks” (Beecham’s famous quote on the finale!) are clearly going to enjoy this version! There’s no feeling for safety-first at any time.

So despite not quite being the finished article - and it shouldn’t be - this is a tremendous achievement and especially in the circumstances of its recording. I can’t wait for his next recording. 

Jaded with Beethoven? This will clear away the cobwebs!

David R Dunsmore 

see also Review by Göran Forsling



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