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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.5 in C minor Op.67 (1808) [37:11]
Symphony No.6 in F major Op.68 "Pastoral" (1808) [39:48]
Staatskapelle Dresden/Herbert Blomstedt
rec. Lukaskirche, Dresden, 1977 ADD
Experience Classicsonline

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 case.

The 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.

This 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.

Blomstedt's 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.

Putting 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.

In 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.

Anyone 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. 

See also Colin Clarke’s review of this disc in its Brilliant Classics incarnation, and Neil Horner’s review of the Blomstedt Beethoven cycle, also on Brilliant Classics.

Tim Perry


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