Beethoven: Symphony No. 7; plus works by Weber, Rossini and Wilms

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Channel
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Symphony No. 7; plus works by Weber, Rossini and Wilms
PERFORMER: Ákos Ács (clarinet); Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer
CATALOGUE NO: Channel CCS SA 25207 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Iván Fischer presents Beethoven’s Seventh in the context of other works composed or performed around the time of its premiere on 8 December 1813. The report of Weber’s reaction to Beethoven’s piece – that its composer was ‘ripe for the madhouse’ – is almost certainly apocryphal, but Weber had at best mixed feelings about his great contemporary. Some three years earlier, Beethoven’s recent works had prompted him to describe them as ‘bewildering chaos, an incomprehensible struggle for novelty from which some odd strokes of genius shine forth’. As for the now obscure German-born Dutch composer and flautist Johann Wilhelm Wilms, Weber once heard one of his flute concertos, which he called ‘dull and routine’. He might have thought more highly of Wilms’s C minor Symphony, whose finale is included on this CD. It’s a piece that foreshadows the Classicised Romanticism of early Mendelssohn, and attractive enough to make one curious to hear the remaining movements. With nearly 20 minutes’ spare capacity on the disc, it’s puzzling to find the Wilms Sinfonia and Weber’s fine Clarinet Concerto in F minor each represented by no more than a single movement. Ákos Ács, principal clarinettist of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, plays Weber’s slow movement beautifully, but it’s not a stand-alone piece. Fischer also offers a sparkling performance of the popular overture to Rossini’s The Italian Girl in Algiers, and his account of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony is impressive, with the major-mode episodes of the famous second movement warm and glowing, and the Dionysiac finale tremendously exciting. The recording is first-class, too, though the balance could have placed greater emphasis on the timpani and horns, which contribute so strongly to the work’s distinctive sonority.