Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 2 [33:21]
Die Ruinen von Athen [4:34]
Zur Namensfeier [6:29]
Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus [5:10]
Beethoven Orchester Bonn/Stefan Blunier
rec. Beethovenhalle, Bonn, January & March 2016
MDG 937 1977-6 SACD [66:29]
I haven’t been following the unfolding Bonn Beethoven cycle, but I enjoyed this CD a lot, and I’ll be looking out for future instalments. Theirs is a four-square, solid approach to Beethoven, one that feels big-boned without being heavy. They have clearly learnt lessons from the period brigade, but they’re not a slave to them and they still see this music as symphonic rather than inflated chamber music.
It’s certainly exciting! The first movement of Symphony No. 2 rips along with a cracking pace once you get through the introduction (which is a proper Adagio). The cellos’ main theme is set against a violin accompaniment that flickers excitingly, and the brass and timps make a wonderfully beefy contribution. The slow movement is, then, really lovely with an old-school approach to the tempo but, nevertheless, something of an edge to the string sound that makes it more interesting to listen to. The Scherzo is exciting, with a pleasingly rustic sounding trio, and the scampering, quicksilver finale rounds off the performance very satisfyingly. It’s refreshing to see that some orchestras still embrace the 20th century tradition of Beethoven playing, and these players claim it boldly for themselves, to which I say: well done!
The overtures that make up the couplings all sound very good, too. A beautifully judged oboe solo leads into a scurrying yet serious Ruins of Athens overture. Zur Namensfeier has the most arresting beginning of anything on the disc, and there is fantastic energy to the main allegro section. Prometheus has an opening pregnant with expectation, and you get the pay-off in a main section of impressive precision.
After this, however, Coriolan is surprisingly (and disappointingly) lumpen and lacking in energy. Egmont makes a satisfying conclusion, however, with crackling fortissimos in the main section and a daringly fast coda which delivers the hymn of victory with all guns firing.
So I’d put this disc into the “pleasant surprise” category. Any Beethoven disc is competing in a very crowded market, of course, and there’s an argument that they’re insufficiently distinctive from the competition. That didn’t stop me enjoying it, though.