Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21 [25:41]
Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92 [39:56]
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg/Sylvain Cambreling
rec. 8 February 2000 (No 7), 21 and 24 May 2011 (No 1), Konzerthaus, Freiburg, Germany
GLOR CLASSICS GC12471 [65:37]
It seems every orchestra is releasing a Beethoven symphony cycle these days, and this marks the halfway point for Sylvain Cambreling and the voluminously-named SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg (see below). I have to say I’m very impressed.
The First Symphony is of great distinction: played with a big band and big, jovial personality, it comes across as more muscular and more daring than usual. The hard-stick timpani and potent SWR brass land a huge punch with the first chord of the finale, and Cambreling leads with a vigorous hand throughout. In a pleasing synergy between conductor and booklet-writer, the essay spends some time talking about the bold character of the symphony, rather than its homages to past masters like Haydn.
The Seventh Symphony, recorded live in only one night in 2000, isn’t quite on the same level, either sonically or technically; the finale gets a little sloppy with what you could call “live enthusiasm”. Even so, it’s still very solid. The introduction is notable for mellow, well-played wind solos. The main allegro isn’t as taut or vibrant as it could be - try Kleiber, Dausgaard, Abbado live, or Szell - but then Cambreling and his band roar back with a tightly focused, direct allegretto. The trio’s handled very briskly - Gardiner and others do this tempo more naturally - and the finale is exciting but ultimately the performance is by no means great.
So a very, very good First and less-good Seventh, in parallel sound quality, makes this a release you might look at for a partial MP3 download. If you want to sample the SWR and Cambreling at their live best, the simultaneous release with Dvořák’s Ninth is a far more powerful testament to their quality. Plus, and I agree that this is quite confusing, the SWR Baden-Baden und Freiburg has also just released a Beethoven symphony cycle with Michael Gielen. That is consistently very good indeed, in fact probably more worthy of your time.
A very, very good First and an average Seventh, so this is for the serious collector.
Reviews of other releases
Symphony 3 & Leonore overture ~~ Symphonies 5 & 6
Masterwork Index: Symphony 1 ~~ Symphony 7