Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 2 & 6

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: PentaTone
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 2 & 6
PERFORMER: Royal Flemish PO/Philippe Herreweghe
CATALOGUE NO: PTC 5186 314 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Philippe Herreweghe and the Royal Flemish Philharmonic produce some really fine playing here, and they have been quite beautifully recorded. Particularly successful are the outer movements of the Pastoral. Some conductors choose to concentrate on the spiritual side of Beethoven’s rural experience, but Herreweghe’s lively opening Allegro stresses the composer’s subtitle of ‘joyful feelings on arrival in the countryside’.

It’s possible to feel that the slow movement’s brook flows a little too slowly (Beethoven even thought of qualifying its already moderate tempo-marking with the words quasi allegretto), but again the performance is full of warmth. The rustic atmosphere of the scherzo is delightfully captured, too; but Herreweghe is insufficiently dramatic in the storm that follows, and its lightning-flashes sound tame. 

There’s a moment in the slow introduction to the Symphony No. 2 where the music turns to the minor, and the entire orchestra gives out a crashing fanfare fanfare that seems for an instant to look forwards across the decades, to the opening movement of the Ninth Symphony.

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Herreweghe’s introduction is a little short on mystery and solemnity to convey the full impact of an outburst such as this, but for the rest the Second is one of Beethoven’s most dazzling scores, and it’s hard not to respond to the brilliance of the playing. Misha Donat