Dvorak/Beethoven

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COMPOSERS: Dvorak/Beethoven
LABELS: Decca historic
WORKS: Symphony No. 7 in D minor ; Symphony No. 7 in A
PERFORMER: LSO/Pierre Monteux
CATALOGUE NO: 433 403-2 ADD
Monteux’s reputation as an expert colourist in French music may have unreasonably overshadowed his skills as a shaper of the other great classics of the repertory. But this 1959 performance of Dvorák’s most symphonic symphony still strikes me as – well, too genial. The opposite, in fact, of what the sleeve notes tell us is a reading that ‘perfectly combines urgency with poise and an idiomatic feel for rubato’. (I’m all in favour of the scholarly notes on these Decca Historic releases, but such critical commentary in this context raises awkward issues.)

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There are wonderful moments: ravishing string playing in the second movement, for instance. But the first movement is too easy-going. A notch or two on the speed would probably have helped a lot, but the feeling of insufficient urgency – due partly to some rubato in what seem to me to be the wrong places, as well as some oddly slack phrasing – is the main worry.

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From 1961 comes a Beethoven Seventh – the Beethoven symphony for those who don’t like Beethoven symphonies – that fares much better. Avoiding heavy-handedness, despite slowish speeds, and coaxing some precision-charged, characterful and, where appropriate, engagingly lighthearted playing from the LSO, Monteux negotiates a subtle path through Beethoven’s here sometimes rather unsymphonic discourse. Recordings have stood the test of time well. A generous coupling. Keith Potter