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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Opus 67 (1807)
MusicAeterna/Teodor Currentzis
rec. 2018, Grosser Saal, Konzerthaus, Vienna
Reviewed as download
SONY 19075884972 [30:34]

In Beethoven’s anniversary year, the listener is being tempted from nearly a hundred years of recorded history. Greek-born, Russian conductor Teodor Currentzis and MusicAeterna, on “period” Instruments, bring us one of the most famous pieces of all music. This is my first experience of Currentzis, who has had mixed reviews here, but I am always keen to hear a fresh view of this timeless work. This is a live recording and I’ll deal with “the elephant in the room” later on.

The famous beginning, “V for Victory” proved underwhelming and comparing it with Tennstedt, on modern instruments, recorded live in 1990, it sounds less dramatic. It lacks power and surely should shock more. It seems slightly rushed. Currentzis takes 6:42 against Tennstedt’s 7:42 which I think works better. In the notes Currentzis states “I started to see and hear this music as something new. However, this “something new” is necessary as it gives you the shock of the first impact that Beethoven definitely wanted, but that has been wasted in the pseudo-existential factories of recording legacy”. Along with some other remarks, I would seriously question this.

Where the performance gets into its stride is in the slow movement “Andante con moto”, which has a military march. This is very skilfully done and the textures, which undoubtedly benefit from the use of old instruments, are well woven. The third movement “Allegro” sets off well with deep basses and horns blasting out. The music flows well and the development is very exciting, However, turning to Tennstedt and the LPO, he takes half a minute longer and there seems much more sonority and humane. There is something lacking in feeling in Currentzis’s whole approach. The movement famously explodes into the final “Allegro”, one of the most dramatic moments in all music and, listening to the original broadcast, I stood to my feet in exclamation. Listening to it again, thirty years later it still fills me with joy at this exhibition of the human spirit Beethoven was getting profoundly deaf and Tennstedt was dying. Currentzis seems to feel the need for loud dynamics to express feeling and it must be said that some of the sounds from the original instruments are effective. Too often, however, I felt that the instruments didn’t gel sufficiently. There was the danger of the wind sounding like an American marching band. The movement ends well but lacks humanity, surely the essence of Beethoven in the proceedings. Unlike Tennstedt, applause is left out which adds to the unemotional aura. The word “symphony” implies togetherness and that is something missing at times from this new performance.

The ‘elephant in the room’ with this release is that, although Currentzis and MusicAeterna performed the Second Symphony at the same concert, only Number 5 is here. The other work will be released in September. The days of a full price 30 minute CD are surely long gone. Justification is given as “… for Currentzis each symphony is similar to a novel, and two novels would never be combined into one book”, Sorry Teodor, you’ve not convinced me. Also “Though they are informed by the experience of live performances, these recordings are painstakingly made over the course of many hours”; a bit too painstaking in my opinion, a little more spontaneity would do well.

At the end of the day, this is just too “scientific” a traversal; there are far deeper recordings available; Klaus Tennstedt included. Currentzis is interesting in parts but sadly, doesn’t achieve a satisfactory “whole”.

David R Dunsmore

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