Beethoven Symphonies and Fidelio reviewed


BEETHOVEN Symphonies 6-9: Le Concert des Nations, La Capella Nacional de Catalunya / Savall (3 CD / SACD) ★★★★

Original instrument surveys of Beethoven's complete symphonies have always stumbled at the ninth – Jordi Savall's is no exception. Partly it's a question of tempi: the set claims this performance takes just under 64 minutes but the CD player reveals it's barely 60, which I found untenable. The slow movement is deprived of sublimity, the scherzo of wit, the finale of grandeur, despite some good choral and solo singing. It's a pity because there's a lot to enjoy in this set. The 'Pastoral' is a joy with its rambunctious peasants' dance, thrilling storm – hard-stick timpani rattling impressively – and a beautifully played beneficent prayer. Savall and his players revel in the eight's pawky humour and the seventh has tremendous drive and energy, the 'Allegretto' taken at a convincingly flowing speed rather than the dirge it's sometimes made out to be. The excellent Catalonian band's infectious energy is captured in excellent life-like sound.

Norman Stinchcombe

BEETHOVEN 'Fidelio': Davidsen, Butt Philip, Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus / Antonio Pappano (Opus Arte DVD) ★★★★

This was to have been a "dream team" production, pairing soprano sensation Lise Davidsen and superstar Jonas Kaufmann. Kaufmann was indisposed for filming and replaced by David Butt Philip. The young British tenor excelled as Florestan, his cry of 'Gott' ringing out heroically and his duet with Davidsen 'Namenlose Freude' was a meeting of equals. Davidsen lives up to the hype as Leonore, in magnificent voice with the necessary spinto cutting edge in 'Abscheulicher', but tender too in confronting her husband's plight. The villain Don Pizarro (trenchant Simon Neal) has no chance against this avenging angel. The director Tobias Kratzer emphasizes and deepens Marzelline's mistaken love for cross-dressing Leonore and Amanda Forsythe seized her chance to make the role more substantial. The supporting cast is strong and Pappano elicits a dynamic performance from orchestra and chorus. Picture and sound (stereo and DTS 5.1) are to the house's usual high standards.

Norman Stinchcombe

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