Herbert Blomstedt's 1970s Dresden Beethoven cycle has been doing
the rounds over the last few years and gathering acclaim along
the way. Now Berlin Classics, the label of origin, has reissued
the classic coupling of the Fifth and Sixth symphonies in smart
minimalist cardboard livery. There are no booklet notes to enlighten
the novice, just a brooding Turner watercolour adorning the cardboard
price may be low and the packaging may be “no frills”, but the
music-making on this disc is beautiful – perhaps too beautiful
for some. These are generous, comfortable Beethoven readings.
Blomstedt's performances of both scores sit squarely in the
romantic German tradition of Beethoven performance. He takes
his time over each movement, displaying a Klemperer-esque grip
of the architecture that is mollified by a Walter-esque warmth
and affection. His rubato is generous and his tempi very
flexible. He delights in bringing majestic breadth to codas,
tuttis and solo passages.
general approach is quite compatible with the Pastoral.
The storm is a bit muffled, as if the shepherds have hidden
under a hay bale for the duration, but their spirited merry-making
afterwards exudes a rustic charm, as indeed does the performance
as a whole.
tack is more controversial in the Fifth. The first movement
is beautifully proportioned and lovingly shaped, powerful in
its way but lacking something in urgency and danger. Blomstedt
broadens the statement of the famous motif in the latter stages
of the movement and draws out the melancholy oboe solo more
than is customary. These gestures somehow feel right, though.
The second and third movements delight with sharp contrasts
of lightness and luminous beauty with suddenly transformed proud
statements and mystery. Blomstedt's manipulation of his already
slow tempi almost seems self indulgent in these two movements,
though he remains compelling and sounds utterly sincere in his
conception. The finale has all the joyous heft you could ask
for, at a respectable if not hasty pace.
aside questions of interpretation, the glory of these performances
is the rich bottom-up sonority of the Dresden orchestra. The
luxurious acoustic of the Lukaskirche enhances the warm glow
of the Dresden strings and the nobility of the horns, and the
analogue recording is vivid.
an age when period performance practice influences just about
all Beethoven performance - certainly on record - this disc
is a reminder that there was plenty of marvellous "traditional"
Beethoven conducting between the years (and extremes) of Toscanini
and Furtwängler on the one hand and the post Harnoncourt HIP-informed
revolution of the 1980s on the other.
looking for a budget priced coupling of these two symphonies
and desirous of, or at least not troubled by, interpretations
from the old school will enjoy this generous disc. However,
there are other options in this price range that may be more
appealing. For a stimulating alternative view of these scores
turn to Australian Eloquence, which has restored Maazel’s once
controversial late 1950s Berlin recordings to the catalogue.
The rhetorical probing of his Fifth and the youthful exuberance
of his Sixth are more exciting and satisfying than these warm
and engaging readings from Blomstedt.
also Colin Clarke’s review
of this disc in its Brilliant Classics incarnation, and Neil
of the Blomstedt Beethoven cycle, also on Brilliant Classics.