BEETHOVEN Complete Symphonies

A period-instrument Beethoven cycle that goes straight to the top of the pile

Author: 
Rob Cowan
BEETHOVEN Complete Symphonies – Krivine

BEETHOVEN Complete Symphonies – Krivine

  • Symphony No. 1
  • Symphony No. 2
  • Symphony No. 3, 'Eroica'
  • Symphony No. 4
  • Symphony No. 5
  • Symphony No. 6, 'Pastoral'
  • Symphony No. 7
  • Symphony No. 8
  • Symphony No. 9, 'Choral'

In providing us with this vital, keenly played and always engaging new period-instrument Beethoven cycle, Emmanuel Krivine is effectively challenging what has in recent years become an all-too-familiar template of sleek, bloodless lines and fast-lane tempi. I would imagine that the texts (or urtexts) used are the ones prepared for Bärenreiter by Jonathan Del Mar: the signs include muted strings in the Pastoral Symphony’s “Scene by the Brook” and a solo cello in the third movement of the Eighth.

More important overall is Krivine’s preference for flexible phrasing, even as early as 2’21” into the first movement of the First Symphony, where the subtle but significant easing of tempo as the line bends reminded me of Toscanini with the BBC Symphony Orchestra back in 1937. Time and again, spatially divided violin desks make musical sense, especially as the recording captures their antiphonal banter so brilliantly.

Krivine knows how to slam a Beethovenian sforzando without breaking glass, and his canny sense of musical timing brings a real buzz to (for example) the first movement of the Second Symphony. He knows how to let the music breathe, too – where to put on the pressure and where to ease off again: the Eroica’s first movement is lithe and stealthy, with delicate detail but plenty of well-targeted power at key moments, the coda’s high-rise climax being a fair case in point. The Marcia funebre has an air of ascetic solemnity about it and Krivine’s mastery of transitions benefits the palpitating leap from Adagio to Allegro vivace in the first movement of the Fourth.

Woodwind lines sing out in the Fifth’s finale, the Scherzo having enjoyed a vigorous fugato on the lower strings, the first movement high energy levels but with air around the phrases. The Pastoral burbles and dances, and the Seventh – with an added, if not always audible, contrabassoon – is a joy to encounter, the Scherzo and finale bounding along with heady abandon. Krivine’s Eighth is both lively and admirably transparent, and although the Choral is a worthy summation – the finale is particularly good – I would say that, interpretatively speaking, the cycle’s musical climax is the sequence of middle symphonies from No 3 to No 7. The Ninth’s first movement hasn’t quite the clarity or impact of, say, the Eroica or Seventh. But it works none the less and throughout the cycle the Chambre Philharmonique (Krivine’s own baby) proves alert, responsive and consistently spontaneous. Each performance is tailed by applause and the recordings have considerable presence, the woodwinds coming off especially well. All key repeats are observed.

Fond as I am of Frans Brüggen, John Eliot Gardiner, Sir Charles Mackerras, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, David Zinman, Paavo Järvi and Osmo Vänskä, all of them informed by significant post-war Beethoven scholarship, I am inclined to place this new cycle fairly near the top of the pile, principally because it has such strong character. Certainly if you know someone who has yet to discover this greatest of all symphony cycles, you could hardly do better than give them this as a gift. It will set them up for life.

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© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2017