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Beethoven • Gossec: Symphony No. 5, etc

Les Siècles/François-Xavier Roth (Harmonia Mundi)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Beethoven • Gossec
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67; Gossec: Symphony in 17 Parts
Les Siècles/François-Xavier Roth
Harmonia Mundi HMM902423   53:15 mins

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Remember to breathe. It is hard to recall a more relentlessly driven performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony than this newcomer from Les Siècles and François-Xavier Roth, especially in the outer movements. It is not that it sets any new land-speed records, though it is certainly brisk. Rather, Roth elicits a consistent and persistent sense of forward momentum that, allied to a willingness to accentuate the coarser aspects of the period instruments, places this symphony as an irruption of the Classical era rather than a blueprint for musical Romanticism. The explicit emphasis, as noted in the booklet, is on Beethoven’s relationship with the spirit of revolutionary France. With the final movement’s rasping brass redolent of the vast open-air spectacles on the Champ de Mars that brought music to the people, Roth whips up suitably fervent exuberance, though here the hard-edged playing veers towards stridency.

That the approach is deliberate is clear from the wonderfully supple and engaging performance of Gossec’s Symphonie à 17 parties that follows. An illuminating coupling, this 1809 work is almost contemporaneous with Beethoven’s Symphony, though it is based on material from 1780. As such, it is not so imbued with the sulphur of revolution, but Gossec’s striking use of woodwind was innovative. Hampered until now by lack of a decent edition, this charmingly captivating work deserves to be ranked alongside Haydn’s later symphonies. Just programme it before Beethoven’s totemic upstart rather than ten seconds after as here. It is hard to set the scene when everything is ablaze.

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Christopher Dingle