Beethoven: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2
PERFORMER: Orchestra of the 18th Century/Frans Brüggen
Brüggen’s recordings of Beethoven’s First and Second have previously appeared separately, each paired with a late Mozart symphony. Now that his Beethoven cycle is nearing completion (only the Ninth is still to come), it was clearly sensible to present the first two symphonies on a single disc, even though they were recorded in a very different acoustic.


The performances have much to recommend them: they are lively and illuminating, and in the slow movements Brüggen again reveals himself as the most Romantic among period-instrument practitioners. Only in the opening movement of the First does his concern to maintain a strict tempo correlation between the introduction and the Allegro lead him to adopt a speed for the latter that is too slow to convey the music’s dynamic energy. The recording of this work is over-reverberant: those highly original timpani rhythms running through the slow movement, for instance, need to sound more focused.


Brüggen’s urgent tempo in the first movement of the Fifth Symphony successfully avoids any hint of a portentous, fatalistic approach. It is a genuinely exciting performance, and one that forces home the astonishing concentration of this most famous of all symphonic movements: the entire exposition here lasts less than a minute and a half. Perhaps the oboist could have been encouraged to be more expansive in the recapitulation’s two highly expressive Adagio bars, but it is a small point. Anyone wanting a version of the Fifth on period instruments should seriously consider this one. Beethoven’s two most tragic overtures complete a rewarding disc of his orchestral writing at its most rugged. Misha Donat