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Gerald Barry • Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 4-6, etc

Britten Sinfonia/Thomas Adès, et al (Signum Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Gerald Barry • Beethoven
Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 4-6; Gerald Barry: Viola Concerto*; The Conquest of Ireland**
*Lawrence Power (viola), **Joshua Bloom (bass); Britten Sinfonia/Thomas Adès
Signum Classics SIGCD639   139:25 mins (2 discs)

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Volume two of Thomas Adès’s Beethoven symphony cycle with added Gerald Barry continues to illuminate both composers. Under Adès, the Britten Sinfonia provide lean, though certainly not mean, performances of Beethoven’s middle three symphonies. There are a few scrappy moments, the wind almost getting ahead of themselves in the Fourth’s slow movement, but generally this is stylishly incisive Beethoven. Barry’s pieces are no mere fillers, so it is a pity that both this set and its predecessor place them at the end of each disc rather than between or before the Beethoven. Nothing can top the end of the Fifth Symphony, but Barry’s relentlessly tub-thumping Viola Concerto would effectively set up the first movement’s revolutionary fervour.

That said, Barry’s The Conquest of Ireland brilliantly splashes cold muddy water over the warm afterglow of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony’s pastoral idyll. Taking its title from a book by Barry’s 12th-century Welsh namesake Gerald de Barri (Giraldus Cambrensis), The Conquest is a hectic tour de force for singer and ensemble where the profound collides with the absurd. Joshua Bloom is compelling throughout, from the rapid opening volleys where voice is grafted onto bass clarinet via the swift leaps between normal voice and falsetto to the disquieting conclusion. Lawrence Power and the Britten Sinfonia are equally assured in the concerto, though I missed the visual element of a performance. Overall, however, this is a never-less-than-stimulating set.

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Christopher Dingle