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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92 (1811-2) [39:40]
Symphony No. 8 in F, Op. 93 (1811-2) [24:53]
Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra/Stanislaw Skrowaczewski
rec. Kongresshalle, Saarbrücken, March 2006
Experience Classicsonline

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski brings a welcome sense of "tradition" - one drawn from the scores, rather than from an accretion of performance habits - to both these performances. The first movement of the A major symphony reminds us that it was once called the "Dance Symphony." In the slow introduction, the monumental quality of a Klemperer (EMI) is absent, but the excellent woodwind principals have enough space to sing expressively, and the dotted rhythms in the second motif have a nice "lift." In the Vivace, the conductor keeps the 6/8 rhythms sprightly, and more accurate than in some higher-profile accounts; only a few of the strings' marcato unisons in the development lapse briefly into a sort of 2/4. The Allegretto flows easily, though coordination isn't always the tightest, and the players occasionally creep ahead. The contrast between the bounding scherzo and the Assai meno presto is just right; at the close, however, the ritard for the winds' shift to minor is overdone, and the final chords again lurch ahead. The finale needs firmer grounding, though it's not quite as runny as Karajan's (DG); Szell (Sony) and Solti (Decca, with the Vienna Philharmonic) do a better job of balancing forward propulsion and rhythmic weight.

The conductor maintains well-sprung rhythms in the F major symphony, infusing it with a sense of play without sacrificing momentum and volatility. At the arrival of the first movement recapitulation, for once, the theme in the basses cuts through the massed upper-string tremolos and wind chords. (EMI producer Suvi Raj Grubb, in his Music Makers on Record, cites a Philharmonia concert where Klemperer reinforced the part with a pair of horns!) The Allegretto scherzando, supposedly poking gentle fun at Maelzel's newfangled metronome, is pointed and infectious. The other movements similarly maintain those qualities that, if I remember correctly, made one commentator see "the planets dancing" in this music, with the string basses unusually prominent in those passages where they carry the themes.

I'd only previously heard the Saarbrücken Radio orchestra in one or two installments of Skrowaczewski's Bruckner cycle (Arte Nova), where the recorded sound was shallow-bright in an early-digital way: you got plenty of brightness and timbre, but little depth -- all overtone and no fundamentals. The OEHMS release is a useful corrective; the engineers reproduce the orchestra's sound altogether more creditably, with fullness and depth. The bass presence is deep, buzzy and focused, and there's plenty of timbral variety.

This doesn't quite make the cut as a "basic library" choice - there are too many other fine accounts of these scores already available - but it documents the work of a relatively unrepresented veteran conductor applying the benefit of experience to the standard repertoire. Collectors and students should thus find it valuable.

Stephen Francis Vasta


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