Beethoven: Ideals of the French Revolution

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: Ideals of the French Revolution: The General; Symphony No. 5; Egmont – extracts; Opferlied, Op. 121B
PERFORMER: Montreal SO/Kent Nagano
CATALOGUE NO: 88697400842

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Kent Nagano is a conductor with a wide variety of sympathies, in both the operatic and the orchestral repertoires. These discs show how versatile and flexible he is, at the same time that they reveal a personality which, if not instantly recognisable, is still powerful, warming always to exciting drama.

The Beethoven pair is in the first place an oddity. We have the Fifth Symphony, very much performed as a revolutionary act: Beethoven as Haydn’s successor, a figure we hear a lot about at present, is swept aside by Beethoven the ferociously intent freedom fighter. It is a brisk, almost violent performance, exciting but probably not enduringly so. On the same disc there are excerpts from Egmont, of which the one that matters is the magnificent Overture, in an account that would have one storming the local Bastille if there were one.

The other disc in this pair is a concoction by the music critic Paul Griffiths, which has the purpose of producing a harrowing account of what happened in Rwanda and how this was studiously ignored by the Western powers, animated by the same music from Egmont and the fragments that Beethoven used for the melodrama (in the literal sense).

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The actor Maximilian plays the part of The General, telling us of the horrors and of how his task of helping was bureaucratically undermined. Half of the other disc is repeated here; the rest is trivial musical punctuation. Yet it is effective enough to get you steamed up at the crass ineptitude of our rulers. Michael Tanner