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Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 5 & 6 (WDR/Janowski)

WDR Symphony Orchestra/Marek Janowski (Pentatone)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Symphonies Nos 5 & 6
WDR Symphony Orchestra/Marek Janowski
Pentatone PTC 5186 809   73:04 mins


In music of this time-honoured humanity and greatness, there are bound to be aspects that almost any given line-up of performers will respond to. Here we have a German radio orchestra which, while not in the absolute top-flight Berlin or Viennese league, is (merely!) very fine in every department – plus a long-experienced conductor whose liking for brisk-ish pace and unexaggerated delivery means, at the very least, that he won’t get in the music’s way. (Janowski also, excellently, includes all the repeat sections indicated in the scores.)

This collective approach works well in large stretches of the Fifth Symphony – as in the second movement, whose Andante con moto pace is beautifully judged, catching the music’s quizzical streak while also allowing warm lyrical contrast, in a way that really does have you listening to the interplay between the two as if for the first time. The finale blazes along impressively, without needless turbo-charging.

But a similar approach doesn’t work so well in the Pastoral Symphony, where Janowski’s trademark restraint seems to hold back too much of the music’s sense of wonderment. In the ‘Scene by the Brook’ – whose indication Andante molto mosso is admittedly a conundrum – the pace feels too hurried for the mood of underlying rapture to come across as it wants to, and the same is true of Janowski’s view of the finale’s Allegretto tempo marking. Nothing offends; then again, you aren’t left with the required feeling that this is one of the greatest musical masterworks ever written down.


Malcolm Hayes