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Beethoven sys PTC5186809
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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No 5 in C minor, Op 67 (1808) [33:34]
Symphony No 6 in F, Op 68, Pastoral (1808) [39:30]
WDR Symphony Orchestra/Marek Janowski
rec. 24-29 September 2018, Kölner Philharmonie, Germany
PENTATONE PTC5186809 SACD [73:04]

Symphony No 5’s famous C minor four-note motto starting its first theme is an oppressing force; its second theme, also headed by the motto (tr. 1, 0:43), is the oppressed resisting, becoming from Marek Janowski with the WDR Symphony Orchestra a jaunty tutti in E-flat major. Janowski’s fighters are all efficiency but, in the performance recorded in 1974 by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Carlos Kleiber (Deutsche Grammophon SACD E4716302), combined discipline and bite create manic intensity. Janowski makes special the Adagio oboe solo (4:20), spotlighting individual pain and sacrifice. His coda (5:39), a march to death or glory, is also splendidly articulated.

The second movement, Andante con moto, its opening theme in A-flat major, warm and relaxed from Janowski, is life at home. The second theme starts with an eager and fearful welcome for the men (tr. 2, 0:56); they answer with a tutti ff blaze (1:12) in C major, their battle key. The second theme reaches from Janowski a sonorous attestation (6:00), the first theme tiptoes (6:46) but soon, at the climax of the movement (7:29), affirms full support of the fighters, matching the nobility of the second theme, Janowski shows of a heartfelt density. Kleiber gives a more dramatic account, but I like Janowski’s more rounded approach of more sensitive interplay between the parties.

In the Scherzo the oppressors scout in C minor, warily, then in an orderly march. The ‘Trio’ is from Janowski the niftier oppressed (tr. 3, 1:53), in C major, more enthusiastic. The oppressors’ march quietens (3:43), the drum beats a march to engagement with a massive crescendo (5:13), 5 seconds from Janowski with spirit and tension to launch into the C major finale and immediate, gleaming triumph. Its first theme’s rising start reverses the first movement’s falling motto. The second theme (tr. 4, 0:34), hymn-like, is akin to the slow movement’s first theme in climax. The third theme (0:58), a joyous dance from Janowski, has simultaneous elements: a falling theme in quavers in triplets in the first violins and rising theme in longer notes in violas and cellos. The fourth theme (1:26) praises dogged determination. In the development the rising, longer note version of the third theme becomes dominant, though the trombones’ entry, very clear in Kleiber’s account at 4:50, from Janowski at 4:32 seems oddly to come only from the doubling bassoons. At 5:30 unexpectedly the scherzo returns: another enemy force, dispatched in just 3 seconds’ crescendo, then more zest in Janowksi’s celebrations and excellent Presto close (9:43). Everything from Kleiber is more aggressive from both sides, his second theme climax less spiritual.

Symphony No 6’s first movement is “Pleasant, cheerful sensations awakened on arrival in the countryside”. With Janowski the lightness of articulation of the first violins of the WDRSO and their crescendos in the first theme bring a clear sense of awakening. With the second theme’s tenderness from the descending first violins (tr. 5, 1:11) I feel everything evolving before my ears. But come the development, with its longer span excitement of gradual crescendos to ff (5:27, 6:55) I’d like to feel more thrilled. However, Janowski’s triumphant affirmation of the recapitulation of the first theme (7:46) does stand in fuller relief. His quieter, silky return of the second theme (8:22) is lovely, as is the impish oboe solo (8:39), but here the horns’ simultaneous crescendo could be more striking. The big clarinet solo is stimulating, the tutti close crisply exultant then quietly shining.

I compare this with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Andris Nelsons, recorded in 2017 (review). His opening isn’t as calm and warm as Janowski’s but more vibrant in germinating. Nelsons’ second theme is mellow and all his crescendos more of a feature. He omits the exposition repeat: bad! But his horns shine in their crescendo. His big clarinet solo is less distinctive, his final tutti less nuanced.

The second movement, “Scene by the Brook”, Andante molto moto Janowski obeys. All’s calm, but you’re aware of teeming activity in the strings’ water and woodwind creatures. The WDRSO latter are superb: involved and characterful. Janowski’s gradation of crescendo and climax here is well done (tr. 6, 3:07). Nelsons, timing at 12:15 to Janowski’s 10:20, feels sultrier: immaculately smooth, sleek, fastidious trills and appoggiaturas; but I prefer Janowski’s directness of action.

The third movement, “Merry gathering of the country people” is a Minuet softly, then loud, from Janowski neat and enjoyable. His Trio (tr. 7, 0:56) relishes merry, nifty solos from oboe, clarinet and horn. A sturdy tutti dance ends on a sudden halt which gives way to the cellos and basses’ distant rumble of thunder. Janowski keeps all this very trim. Nelsons, slightly faster, is more stunning than enjoyable: everything athletic and virtuoso.

The fourth movement, “Thunder. Storm”, starts with an eery tremolando on cellos and basses with pattering rain in the second violins and an anxious rising motif in the firsts, then the full force of the storm, tutti ff (tr. 8, 0:27), where Janowski’s timpani could be scarier. I like him bringing out a glimmer of hope in the clarinet’s opening out of the rising motif (1:32), soon dashed by the hair-raising stellar G-flat to G-natural scream from the piccolo (2:10). Generally, Nelsons supplies more urgency and frissons.

In the finale, “Shepherds’ song: Beneficent feelings bound with thanks to the Godhead after the storm”, Janowski blends beneficent and thankful well. First, smooth, serene violins’ first theme. The second theme (tr. 9, 2:19), first on clarinets and bassoons, is more serious and aspiring. The next time the first theme appears, mainly in the second violins, it comes with a simultaneous variation, p dolce in semiquavers, in the firsts (3:25). The gradual approach to the final climax (6:48) is an uplifting experience from Janowski. Nelsons, taking 10:00 against Janowski’s 8:19, emphasises this movement’s Allegretto following Allegro, making his first theme more emotive, but his wind power in the tuttis obscures the strings’ trills. His second theme I find too reticent, while the variation by the first violins overmuch covers the seconds’ theme.

Michael Greenhalgh

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