Beethoven: Symphony No. 4 in B flat; Symphony No. 5 in C minor; Coriolan Overture

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: Symphony No. 4 in B flat; Symphony No. 5 in C minor; Coriolan Overture
PERFORMER: Swedish CO/Thomas Dausgaard
Has it really taken so long for a publisher to come up with a genuinely authoritative set of editions of the Beethoven symphonies? It’s nearly 200 years since the Fourth Symphony appeared, and only now (thanks to the publisher Bärenreiter and editor Jonathan Del Mar) can we get a clear picture of what Beethoven intended – as far as notation is concerned, that is. But that’s by no means the only reason for getting to know this disc. Not only are the recordings excellent – clear, fresh, beautifully balanced; the performances, too, are exceptionally fine. Thomas Dausgaard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra have obviously learned lessons from the period-instrument innovators (do I hear 19th-century timpani?), but there’s nothing mannered or wilfully contentious about the results. Instead there’s abundant life, quick-witted musical intelligence, inwardly charged expression, scintillating precision, humour and a sense of awe before Beethoven’s more startling inspirations – yes, they can still startle even today. It’s a long time since I’ve enjoyed a new recording of the Fourth as much as this; clearly there was never any danger of Dausgaard falling for the old idea that No. 4 is a lighter, and therefore lesser symphony. Coriolan is a concise, gripping tragic statement, and if the Fifth Symphony doesn’t always rise to the heights, it still compares well with most modern versions. Worth adding even to an already bulging Beethoven collection. Stephen Johnson