Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F (Pastoral); Leonore Overture No. 3

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2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Symphony No. 6 in F (Pastoral); Leonore Overture No. 3
PERFORMER: Saito Kinen Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa
CATALOGUE NO: 462 595-2
Bruno Walter passionately affirmed that without love for nature, it would be impossible to conduct Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. His view was founded on the misguided Romantic notion that explicit pictorialism was Beethoven’s sole objective. Sketches for the work, however, contain comments like ‘one leaves it to the listener to discover the situations himself’ and ‘anyone with feeling for country life will discern the composer’s intentions’. Clearly, Beethoven hoped to deter the kind of self-indulgent conductorial Malerei (‘Tone-Painting’) that Walter and his generation espoused.

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But Seiji Ozawa goes too far in the opposite direction, proffering a clinically inscrutable view of the Symphony, despite fastidious playing from the excellent Saito Kinen Orchestra. Its members, who perform together for just six weeks each year, are all protégés of the famous Toho Gauken School of Music in Tokyo, founded by the influential Japanese cellist, conductor and educator, professor Hideo Saito. The supreme irony, I suppose, is that it’s hard to reconcile playing of such beauty with conducting that’s so singularly lacking in charisma and (vital in the Pastoral) catharsis.

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Recorded sound is richly detailed, yet Ozawa’s dispiritingly perfunctory Pastoral rapidly cloys, leaving me with the remorseful thought: ‘come back Bruno Walter… all is forgiven!’ There are miraculous moments, though – Ozawa’s amazing pianissimo (bar 322) before the recapitulation in Leonore No. 3 is a real breath-catcher – but they’re few and far between, and you’d do best to keep faith with long-established, classically authoritative accounts such as Böhm’s radiantly authoritative and fresh-sounding VPO Pastoral in DG’s Originals series. Michael Jameson