Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral)
PERFORMER: Bavarian State Orchestra/Carlos Kleiber
Recordings of the reclusive Carlos Kleiber aren’t exactly thick on the ground, so any previously unreleased performance of his is likely to be of considerable interest to his many admirers (me included). In the case of this 1983 account of Beethoven’s Pastoral – apparently the only time he has ever conducted the work – the Bavarian State Orchestra’s tape was found to have deteriorated during storage, and the recording has been salvaged with the help of a cassette copy made at the time for Kleiber’s son. The technicians have worked wonders with it, but don’t expect state-of-the-art sound. What about the performance itself? Certainly, there are moments that bear the distinctive stamp of Kleiber’s personality – the urging forward of the tempo in the opening movement’s development section, for instance; or the whipping up of the excitement in the storm – but there are others that betray surprisingly ragged ensemble. More regrettable is Kleiber’s cavalier attitude towards repeats. I can live without the first-movement repeat, though it’s short in all conscience; but the cut Kleiber inflicts on Beethoven’s third movement, truncating the peasants’ gathering by deleting the entire reprise of its opening section and quasi-trio is much less forgivable, and the bleeding chunk that remains shows a profound misunderstanding of Beethoven’s middle-period scherzo designs. Those who worry about such things might note that very nearly four minutes of an already short-measure CD consist of applause. Among modern versions of the Pastoral that have the same warmth and energy as Kleiber’s, but greater respect for the text, my recommendation would be Abbado and the BPO. Misha Donat