Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 4 in B flat major Op. 60 (1806) [32:55]
Symphony No. 6 in F major Op. 68 (1808) [41:32]
The Netherlands Symphony Orchestra/Jan Willem de Vriend
rec. Muziekcentrum Enschede, Netherlands, 30 June-3 July 2008 (No 4); 23-26 June 2008 (No 6)
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72361 SACD [74:29]
This is announced as Volume 1 of the Complete Symphonies. It enters an exceptionally crowded market in which I suspect that it will need to have at least one unique selling point to make itself noticed beyond those with a special interest in the conductor or orchestra. I am not sure that it has that, but it does have important virtues making it worth considering as an addition to your collection.
Essentially these are clean, well recorded performances, combining many aspects of the modern trend towards historically informed performance with some features of a more traditional approach - especially the use of luftpausen and some moderate variation of speed within movements. Both of the latter features are used with discretion to point up the structure and changing character of the music. There is a delightful surge to the music of the long slow movement of the Pastoral Symphony which carefully avoids the lumpiness which some conductors bring to it, and almost makes it seem like a gentle dance at times. I enjoyed this, as well as the very characterful bird-calls at the end of the movement. The woodwind and brass are indeed played with great individuality throughout and are responsible for much of the pleasure of these performances. Balance between sections is well handled. There are a few curiosities, including occasionally very truncated ends to phrases and occasional almost inaudible starts to notes, but these are rare, and in general these are more than acceptable performances.
That may sound like faint praise, but in fact both works are full of pitfalls for the unwary. The booklet notes refer more than once to the conductor’s stress on the importance of knowing as much as possible about the musical and historical context of the works. I am not sure that I follow all of the argument, but certainly these are idiomatic and sane performances. In a crowded market I suspect that many purchasers who own a range of earlier recordings may be expecting more before they add this cycle, but these would be admirable performances from which a newcomer to the music could get to know its overall character before listening to more idiosyncratic or even wilful performances.
Clean, well recorded performances, combining many aspects of the modern trend towards historically informed performance with some features of a more traditional approach