Beethoven: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 5

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: LSO Live
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: London SO/ Bernard Haitink
CATALOGUE NO: LSO 0590

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This series of Beethoven symphonies, given over a period of months at the Barbican, and recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra for its own label, is one of the most distinguished that has appeared in recent decades. And though the performances have the excitement of live occasions, there is almost no distracting noise from audience or orchestra.

Final choice about which versions to have of course depends on individual preferences, the last thing one wants being an account that offends no one and mildly bores everyone. These performances could never do that.

The Fifth Symphony represents the challenge of being the best-known work in the repertoire, but without being quirky Hatink presents it in a way that feels utterly fresh. Even the slightly sickly longueurs of the slow movement have a refreshing rhythmic vitality, and the corny cadences are played with conviction.

I would have liked more of a sense of build-up from the third the reading a bit po-faced; Abbado scores here with a wonderfully controlled surge. Yet when we get there the results are exhilarating.

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The First Symphony begins with a surprisingly sedate first movement for an Allegro con brio, but phrasing is so enchantingly pointed that it is hard to object. The rest of the symphony moves with that Haydnish combination of gracefulness and ebullience which is the work’s hallmark. This is one of the finest contributions to this series. Michael Tanner