Beethoven • Knecht
Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 65 ‘Pastorale’; Knecht: Le Portrait musical de la Nature ou Grande Symphonie in C major
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin/Bernhard Forck
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902425 66.14 mins
Justin Heinrich Knecht (1752-1817) is a name that means nothing to anyone these days, but 20-odd years before Beethoven he wrote Le portrait musical de la Nature ou Grande Simphonie, a work in five movements with subtitles indicating storms, Nature rejoicing at the calm after them and so forth. The symphony, which lasts about 25 minutes, is not musically distinguished and is thematically almost non-existent, but it is agreeable and contains sounds from Nature much as Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony does. Beethoven knew at least the names of Knecht’s movements and clearly thought it a good idea to follow the same general pattern and in the same leisurely vein – the Pastoral is his most diffuse work. On this recording we get both works and it is unlikely that anyone will want to play Knecht’s more than twice.
The Akademie für alte Musik Berlin has no conductor here but a ‘concert master’, the lead violinist, playing slightly louder than the rest of the orchestra to hold them together. The orchestra is small, just over 30 players, and for much of the time remarkably quiet. But with the outburst of the fourth movement they make a tremendous noise, with ear-splitting brass. Tempos tend to be on the fast side, but not disconcertingly so, and there is an agreeable sense of flexibility, the more striking since there is no conductor. This would be an unlikely first choice for any collector of Beethoven – and I doubt there are any collectors of Knecht – but you will certainly notice things that you haven’t heard before. Michael Tanner