Beethoven: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 7

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Sony Classical
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 7
PERFORMER: La Scala PO/Carlo Maria Giulini
CATALOGUE NO: SK 48 236 DDD
This is a throwback to an older style of Beethoven playing, the style that the champions of authentic performance such as Roger Norrington have taught us to be wary of. The sound is an unashamedly old-fashioned one; it’s massive, full, and beautifully blended, even when the music seems to call for strong contrasts. The tempi are slow, even stately, and the joins between sections are nicely dovetailed.

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This is an approach that does have its drawbacks. Some of the wit is lost; the surprising rhythmic crossplay in the second movement of the First Symphony, for example, which relies on sharply defined orchestral colours, consequently loses its effect. The amazing first chord of the Allegretto of the Seventh Symphony, which should sound as cold and steely grey as the North Sea, is altogether too soft, thanks in large part to the oboist, who tends to play throughout the disc with too much vibrato.

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Despite all the caveats, I did enjoy these performances. They may not have the thrilling energy that Norrington brings to bear in his recordings, but they have a wonderfully spacious quality, and the slowish tempi allow the inner parts to sound with unusual clarity. Ivan Hewett