Beethoven, Brahms: Symphony No. 5 in C minor

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Brahms
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Symphony No. 5 in C minor
PERFORMER: Kyung-Wha Chung (violin); Vienna PO/Simon Rattle
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 57165 2
This recording of the Fifth Symphony, made live in the Musikverein last December, is not actually part of the eagerly awaited Beethoven cycle from Rattle and the Vienna Philharmonic, but serves as an intriguing taster for it.

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On the face of it, Rattle, with his iconoclastic dynamism, his experience with period instruments and his eye for scholarly detail, is worlds apart from the VPO, which under certain other conductors still plays the Classical repertoire with serene indifference to historical practice. The confrontation is a fruitful one, however, and the players respond to Rattle’s hypercharged sense of urgency with a performance of white-hot intensity, the final March bursting with irrepressible energy.

Abbado’s recent set with the Berlin Philharmonic, also using Jonathan Del Mar’s new edition, is the obvious point of comparison. Abbado’s Fifth is more measured, Rattle’s more volcanic (perhaps too much for some). Carlos Kleiber’s classic recording has both unstoppable energy and magisterial authority.

Kyung-Wha Chung sounds a slightly reticent soloist in the Brahms Violin Concerto, partly because of microphone placement (she is surely too recessed to make maximum impact with her opening flourish). It is a beautifully crafted performance, however, with phrases lovingly caressed, and refined, homogenous orchestral accompaniment from the VPO.

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Nathan Milstein’s intelligent, also sweetly phrased 1954 account has just come back on EMI’s Great Recordings of the Century, but there are also fine modern readings to be considered, notably that of Vengerov and Barenboim on Teldec. Vengerov is disappointingly prosaic in the decorated line of the Adagio, however, whereas Anne-Sophie Mutter live with Masur on DG has everything: rock-steady technique, the ability to let a lyrical line take wing and an incomparable sense of fantasy and imagination.