Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor; Symphony No. 6 in F (Pastoral)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Symphony No. 5 in C minor; Symphony No. 6 in F (Pastoral)
PERFORMER: NDR SO/Günter Wand
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 61930 2 DDD
The new Pastoral from Günter Wand, a veteran steeped in the Austro-German psyche, recorded live in the Musikhalle, Hamburg, is the stuff of legend. Here is a magnificent reading, in the (slower) Furtwängler rather than (brisker) Karajan tradition: classically structured, poetically focused and Romantically infused. Wand, one of the great Beethovenians of our time, knows all about the dreams, dances and drama, the unity and tension of this music, and he communicates its expressive feeling in paragraphs of gripping inevitability and directional climax. An outstanding Fifth, too, complete with finale repeat.

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Giulini’s Pastoral has always been eloquent and measured. His latest view, however – slower than Wand and without the first movement repeat – fails to live up to either of his earlier, quicker accounts with the New Philharmonia or the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Where Wand’s string playing is crisply pointed, Giulini’s is flaccid and wanting in positive rhythmic attack. And his idea of linking all the movements (not just the last three) to create a continuous whole lacks conviction. Sony’s High Definition 20-bit sound does what it can, but RCA/BMG’s outstanding balance and presence for Wand is to be preferred. A disappointing release, not improved by unfortunate wind intonation in Egmont.

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Better known for his work in opera and ballet than the concert hall, the Russian Mark Ermler offers a respectable Pastoral, unsteady in places (for example, the end of the first movement) and without the aristocratic vision of Wand, yet with more immediate personality than Giulini. Worth auditioning, despite budget competition from the likes of Walter, Jochum and Reiner. Decently recorded. Ates Orga