Beethoven: Symphony No. 2 in D; Symphony No. 8 in F

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 in D; Symphony No. 8 in F
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallisch
These are two of Beethoven’s sunniest symphonies, belying both the conflict of the Napoleonic era and the tragedy of their composer’s deafness. In the Romantic sense they are neither autobiographical nor socio-historical commentaries. It’s hard to associate the brightly extrovert Second with the suicidal period of the Heiligenstadt Testament (1802). And who would think of the operatically Italianate Eighth (1812) as the product of a Europe in the grip of war and bankruptcy? Looking both forward (the Scherzo of the Second) and back (the Minuet of the Eighth), both works tease irresistibly. And the Eighth’s finale remains among the most brilliant structural innovations of its time. In his notes Bernard Jacobson rightly identifies its incident as ‘the stuff of great comedy’, but is wrong to repeat Tovey’s simplistic assertion that it’s a sonata design with a coda as long as the rest of the movement put together. Emotionally, intellectually and dramatically, its unique arch plan makes it an altogether different experience.

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A constantly thoughtful and inquiring conductor, Wolfgang Sawallisch is steeped in the Austro-German tradition, and he gives us strongly characterised mainstream performances – alert to detail, accent and form – that are closer to the Jochum/Wand approach than the Karajan. The Second is vibrant, the Eighth (recorded ‘live’) buoyant, graceful and climactically purposeful. The Royal Concertgebouw, on their home ground, support with elegant solo work and richly blended tutti ensemble. Sensitively engineered, the warm resonance of the Amsterdam hall is ideally caught. Ates Orga