Gramophone just published a list of the 50 greatest Beethoven recordings and our Symphonies Nos 4 & 6 disc made it to the list. Read the critical review of Richard Osborne.
The finest recordings of Beethoven's music, from the Fourth Symphony to the Late Quartets.
Budapest Festival Orchestra / Iván Fischer
It comes as no surprise to find these marvellous Budapest musicians moving the Pastoral Symphony downstream along the Danube from the woods by Heiligenstadt to the countryside beyond Buda. The specifically “east of Vienna” dimension is not merely felt in the fierier thrust of the 2/4 section of the “Peasant’s Merrymaking”. It is all-pervasive.
Iván Fischer’s direction is in the Toscanini class in its clarity and verve. Not that his tempi are at all Toscanini-like. The second and last movements have a Furtwänglerlike breadth, though such is Fischer’s mastery of ease within motion and motion within repose, there is nothing here that is long-drawn. Like Karl Böhm’s celebrated VPO Pastoral, this is also a closely observed reading, richly “characteristic”.
Furtwängler spoke of “a quality of absorption in the Pastoral which is related to the religious sphere”. The finale’s heading, “Beneficent feelings bound with thanks to the Godhead”, confirms the concept but it is rare nowadays to hear it realised. Daringly, Fischer has the horn-call which ushers in the finale met for the first eight bars by a solo violin as the shepherds’ hymn steals in upon the air. The effect is not unlike the entry of the solo violin in the Benedictus of the Missa solemnis. Aptly so, since it ushers in a reading of the finale which is unashamedly devout.
Fischer’s approach to the Pastoral is quite different from his approach to the Fourth. The resemblance here to Karajan’s 1962 Berlin recording is uncanny, doubly so given the quality of playing and direction needed to bring off a reading of such pace, poise and beauty. Not even Karajan attempted to re-enact the miracle. Which is not to say that the Budapest performance is a carbon copy of the Karajan. Fischer is quicker in the slow movement where he retains that mm=72 pulse which can plausibly inform all four movements. In fact, he presses on beyond that all-informing pulse in the finale. Not that the racy tempo affects the feel of a performance which has zest and humour, and which, like the Karajan, realises to perfection Beethoven’s seemingly effortless marriage of the spirits of Apollo and Dionysus. Richard Osborne (January 2011)