Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 1 & 3

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1 & 3
PERFORMER: Manchester Camerata/Douglas Boyd

 Reduce the size of the orchestra any further than on this recording, and you might as well re-score the Beethoven symphonies for string quartet – except that one of the distinguishing features of Boyd’s Beethoven is that the strings are recessive, the winds, especially the woodwinds, claiming the limelight.
That is part, still, of the reaction from the plummy Karajan tradition, which aimed to overwhelm with sensuous beauty. The performances here are abrasive, from the opening dissonance of the First Symphony – wonderfully balanced, pungent and mischievous at once – through to the final thin but piercing torrents of the fourth movement of the Eroica
The First Symphony receives one of the most enjoyable performances I have heard for a long time, and one of the most detailed. About the Eroica I am less decided. Tempos are traditional, broader than we associate with the Gardiner-Norrington axis, yet the impression is once more of lack of weight.
That is no doubt partly due to the small forces, though as we find elsewhere (see my review of Parvo Järvi’s Beethoven below) similarly reduced forces can sound far fuller. With Boyd, who is, bar for bar, clearly a consummate musician, it seems a point of honour that everything should sound as if it was neo-classical Stravinsky, with an added element of aggression. Fascinating. Michael Tanner