Beethoven Symphonies Nos 5 & 7
New York Philharmonic/Jaap Van Zweden
Decca Gold 4816856 69:56 mins
These are amazing performances, recorded live, with thoroughly deserved cheers, in the Lincoln Center in 2015 and 2014 respectively. I imagine that the New York Philharmonic is thrilled to have so invigorating and colourful a figure as Jaap van Zweden as their chief conductor. On the basis of everything I have heard under him, he is one of those rare musicians who not only give powerful accounts of little known works, but also re-animate the standard repertoire without indulging in attention-drawing ‘insights’.
From the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth, which it is possible for a seasoned listener to feel he has heard often enough, there is intense conviction. Not only in the fiery playing, though that is extraordinary, but in the way that Van Zweden elicits usually unheard details of scoring and surprising rhythms which, though certainly in the score, I had never heard before. And tricky passages such as the transition from the third to the fourth movements of the Fifth, which invite conductorial excesses, are here both fresh and faithful to the score.
These qualities are found equally in Van Zweden’s account of the Seventh, my one slight disappointment being that he takes the trio of the third movement quite slowly, an approach which did work with conductors whose interpretation of the Symphony was in a quite different tradition, but which in the context of this reading sounds turgid. But overall this is a triumph, to be listened to especially by anyone who feels they don’t have an urgent need to listen to these works again.