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

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: EMI Classics for Pleasure
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 in D; Symphony No. 8 in F
PERFORMER: Royal Liverpool PO/Charles Mackerras
CATALOGUE NO: CDCFP 6068
A casual listener might be struck by some good but unexceptional Beethoven playing here, brisk but not eccentrically so; something strange in the woodwind in the Second Symphony’s opening movement; no dawdling at the pretty bits; and the yawning chasm Beethoven opens up in the same symphony’s Larghetto somewhat dismissively stepped over. However, he will accept all this as being the modern way, and will weather the minor shocks and also find much to enjoy.

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But how wrong he would be, according to a booklet note by musicologist Jonathan Del Mar. These sounds are in fact le dernier cri, incorporating the fruits of Del Mar’s tireless research into Beethoven’s symphonies, and his discoveries – such as the above-mentioned major third between two clarinets, rather than a corrupt and conventional minor third – ‘force quite a radical reassessment of the scores’.

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Del Mar’s work is important, but in the context of a performance his comments must be seen as an exaggeration. The clarinet blip, though noteworthy, is certainly the nearest to a revelation in either symphony. And even if it is not of itself a defining feature of Mackerras’s readings, they succeed because they are efficient and well conceived, and not as an exercise in musical correctness. Christopher Wood