Beethoven: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2
PERFORMER: NDR SO/Günter Wand
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 66458 2
Wand continues the re-recording of his core repertoire, this time with his old orchestra from Hamburg. The complete Beethoven set which they made together in the Eighties is still available at mid-price, so what’s to tempt here? First, like all of Wand’s recent recordings, it’s taken from public concerts (in 1997 and 1999), and so there’s that indefinable edge of live performance. Even the gaps between movements add to the sense of the music moving forwards. Then there’s the acoustic of Hamburg’s excellent Musikhalle, a warmer and more sympathetic environment than the various studios and halls that housed the previous versions. Finally, the NDR SO, like most orchestras, plays with a special affection for its old chief. Wand’s conception of the symphonies hasn’t changed much with the passing of time, though he takes a slightly more relaxed view of both first movements, and doesn’t make the repeat in the second movement of the First Symphony. Otherwise he shows no sign of slowing down in his eighties: the pulse is always strong, even in the slow movements. And he is a master of turning corners: moving from the introduction into the Allegro first movement of the Second Symphony is done with a sleight of hand that any magician would envy. If you prefer the brighter primary colours of the period instrument school, this CD with its sophisticated orchestral balance and blend won’t be for you, but if you are after unshowy, honest, experienced Beethoven conducting, you couldn’t do better. Martin Cotton

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