Beethoven: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 7

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 7
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallisch
Just when you thought it was safe to go into your local record store, out comes yet another complete Beethoven symphonies cycle. This one has the advantage of being conducted by a musician steeped in the central European tradition, and one who has lived with the scores for several decades. Even so, it is difficult not to feel disappointed by this first instalment. Not that the playing itself is ever less than highly accomplished, nor that the famous Concertgebouw acoustic fails to cast a warm glow over the proceedings; but it all sounds too smooth by half. This is, after all, music that positively cries out for a few rough edges.


The Fourth begins rather well, with a spacious account of the mysterious slow introduction; but Sawallisch relaxes too much in the second subject of the Allegro, and the voltage in the Scherzo and finale is also dangerously low. The Seventh makes more of an impact, though Sawallisch adopts a cavalier attitude to the question of repeats. It is possible to feel that the first-movement repeat is difficult to bring off; but to omit the long repeat in the finale as well is a cardinal sin. The latter is a sonata-form movement based on sectional, rondo-like material, and shorn of its exposition repeat Beethoven’s deliberately ambiguous design is seriously undermined. Misha Donat