COMPOSERS: Ludwig van Beethoven
LABELS: Philharmonia Baroque
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 7
WORKS: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 7
PERFORMER: Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan
CATALOGUE NO: PBP06
Neat’ was the word that came to mind as I began to listen to the Fourth Symphony. And that could apply to all aspects of the performance: rhythms, phrasing and balance are mostly precise and accurate, and the music is allowed to speak for itself. The slow introduction doesn’t hang around self-indulgently, and the Allegro is pacey, with a vitality that comes from short notes being really short. That’s something that propels the Adagio along as well, with the contrast between the sustained melody and the rocking accompaniment exploited to the full, although there could be more warmth in the sound. But the colours of the period instruments are beautifully caught in the acoustic and by the recording, and only the odd rough edge gives away the fact that these are live performances.
The Seventh Symphony works less well, with an introduction of unusual urgency, pushing forward towards a Vivace which is comparatively relaxed: while both work separately, they don’t seem to add up to a coherent view of the whole movement. The Allegretto sounds bleaker than normal, with the lack of vibrato in the strings and the veiled opening dynamics emphasising the ghostly character of the procession, but the scherzo, as in the Fourth Symphony, is brimming with energy. That overflows into the finale, but it isn’t always rhythmically controlled, and ensemble isn’t as tight as it needs to be. It must have been immensely exciting in the hall, as the whoops of applause testify, but not for repeated listening.