Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor; Symphony No. 7 in A

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: EMI Eminence
WORKS: Symphony No. 5 in C minor; Symphony No. 7 in A
PERFORMER: Royal Liverpool PO/Charles Mackerras
CATALOGUE NO: CDEMX 2212 DDD
These discs make an interesting pair. They’ve both clearly been marked by the current trend towards ‘historically informed performances’, but with what different results! Masur’s researches have convinced him that the Scherzo should be played with repeats; Mackerras, having examined the evidence, takes the opposite view. In his performance the Scherzo sounds like a brief interlude between two big statements, whereas Masur gives it equal status with the other movements. Then there’s the huge difference in performance style.

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Mackerras’s performance is lean and fleet-footed, and the orchestral sound has some of the sharp colours of a ‘period’ recording; there’s a similar wind-and-brass dominance, but without the added pungency of period instruments. It is full of intelligent touches; for example, he brings the oboe forward in the texture just before the end of the first movement to prepare the listener for its forlorn little solo. The tempi are very rapid, and seem even more so because of his tendency to whip up excitement by anticipating the beat.

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Masur’s tempi are hardly any slower than Mackerras’s, but his performances seem more weighty, and have a quality of decisiveness rather than nervy excitement. The orchestral sound is much more massive and blended, and the acoustic is correspondingly generous. The coupling is a fine performance of the incidental music to Egmont. Sylvia McNair’s beautifully focused and agile voice is exactly right for the youthful idealism of the songs, and she provides an excellent foil to the grave, weary dignity of Will Quadflieg’s narration. Ivan Hewett