Beethoven: Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 5

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Manchester Camerata/Douglas Boyd
There are performances that grab you from the very first note. And so it is with Douglas Boyd and the Manchester Camerata in Beethoven’s Second Symphony. From the fortissimo unison D that begins the slow introduction it is clear this is going to be no ordinary performance. Not since Roger Norrington and his London Classical Players took up this symphony in the mid-Eighties have I heard a Beethoven Second that sounded so fresh and alert. But Boyd, for all that he has clearly learned from the period instrumentalists – especially when it comes to phrasing – brings a fire and intensity that at times reminds me more of Toscanini. Yes, I know this sounds extreme, so just to make sure I wasn’t carried away by the mood of the moment I played the disc again – and, yes, it really is as good as all that: in the slow movement as much as in the scherzo and fiery outer movements. And the Fifth? Well by any standards this is another remarkable performance – not perhaps as searingly intense as the classic Carlos Kleiber version on DG, but still commandingly shaped and bitingly articulate. Boyd and the Manchester Camerata also observe the full scherzo-trio repeat (which Kleiber doesn’t). Musicologically it’s controversial (the new Breitkopf edition leaves it out) but to me it makes artistic sense – the scherzo now feels big enough for the finale to throw its full weight against. And Boyd makes a very convincing musical case for it. The recordings are excellent – apart from the odd cough or rustle, you’d hardly guess they were made at concerts. Definitely a disc worth having. Stephen Johnson