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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Concerto for piano, violin and cello [39:01]
Symphony No. 5 [36:51]
Isabelle Faust (violin)
Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello)
Martin Helmchen (piano)
Leipzig Gewandhausorchester/Herbert Blomstedt
rec. live, Leipzig Gewandhaus, 12/13 January 2017
Region Code: 0; Aspect Ratio 16:9; 2.0 PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
ACCENTUS ACC20411 DVD [78:15]

Extraordinarily, Herbert Blomstedt recently celebrated his 90th birthday, and as part of the celebrations Accentus have released his recordings of the Beethoven symphonies. This is the only one of the set that I’ve encountered, but in others about which I read lots of commentators made the point that Blomstedt is a conductor who has never really been in fashion. That’s a terrible shame, because his work is strong and musicians clearly love to work with him (as I detected when I heard him conduct the Leipzig Gewandhaus in the 2016 Edinburgh Festival - review) and he has made some wonderful recordings in the past, notably in the symphonies of Nielsen and Bruckner.

Having said that, these performances are a little ordinary. The Triple Concerto benefits from a top-notch trio of soloists, who are all good, but they’re also disappointingly score-bound and seldom look up from the page to interact with one another. That's a particular problem for the pianist who to be fair is not as regular a collaborator with the others. However he resorts to some somewhat unattractive note bashing while his companions are on the whole more lyrical. Jean-Guihen Queyras ,in particular, seems to be captivated by his music and play with more voluptuous abandon. Faust is a little pedestrian in comparison with her usual high standard but when she gets going, such as when she launches her variation/episode in the Rondo, she is excellent.

Blomstedt’s view of the piece is not much more than standard, really. The first movement progresses with the right level of pace, and the finale is lively enough as it goes, without being anything special. The Largo has a lovely sense of meditation about it, though, and it makes you sorry it's only five minutes long.

The performance of the fifth symphony may not be a classic but it's enjoyable in a very direct sort of way. The orchestra sound great and Blomstedt, who has been conducting this piece for decades, gives a commanding view of its shape. This is especially impressive in the big transition into the finale, but he also knows when to pull back and went to put his foot on the gas in that last movement. The (in)famous first movement is genuinely exciting, and the second is persuasively lyrical, with a lovely moment in the coda when the strings turn to the major.

There’s so much Beethoven out there, though, that this one has to be relegated to an also-ran in competition with other DVD sets from the likes of Fischer and Abbado. It’s perfectly fine, but is that really enough?

Simon Thompson



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