SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 1 in C; Symphony No. 5 in c – Beethoven Orchestra Bonn/ Stefan Blunier – MD&G

Looks like a new Beethoven series is coming, and in excellent surround sound. But do we need one that is quite this traditional in outlook?

Published on March 8, 2013

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 1 in C; Symphony No. 5 in c – Beethoven Orchestra Bonn/ Stefan Blunier – MD&G

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21; Symphony No. 5 in c, Op. 67 – Beethoven Orchestra Bonn/ Stefan Blunier – MD&G multichannel SACD (2+2+2) 937 1756-6, 57:26 [Distr. by E1] ***1/2:

There is nothing wrong with these performances; though very traditional in style and quite generic in nature, there is nothing here that displeases. But there is also nothing that catches the intellectual or emotional lights either. What Tilson-Thomas captured in his recent San Francisco performance of the C-minor is lacking here, a dearth of risk-taking that keeps the performance acceptable but grounded, and certainly nothing like the revelations found in the now-classic Kleiber (remember when that recording was new? It still feels that way to me) are to be found here. Even in the square No. 1 everything is played safe, and there is no sense of the adventurous, only of the rather perfunctorily pleasant and acceptable. In this day and age, when Beethoven symphonies abound rather freely, it does surprise me that an ensemble with a vast tradition of this music would not struggle to set itself apart from the pack, but the Beethoven Bonn Orchestra seems content to prove simply that they can play this music as well as anyone—which they can—yet remain firmly within the canonized limitations of accepted 20th-century performance standards as they lasted until around 1980.

The orchestra itself is 106 large, and they sound like they are all playing here, which to me is not a bad thing. The sound is rather Chandos-like, with a lot of reverb, and a distinctive spectrum that puts the winds physically quite far behind the strings, just as you might hear them in concert. No attempts are made at “authentic” practice—if you can even call it that—at all, just a once-off, superbly-executed performance of two great symphonies in exceedingly non-controversial readings; modern instruments of course, also not a bad thing.

The only problem is that there are about 20 others I could name that more than fit this bill, and even though I like the sound here I would still gravitate towards Bernstein, Barenboim, Kleiber, Tilson-Thomas, Karajan, and Vanska if I was just coming to this music. Then again, you could do a lot of worse if this one dropped in your lap. I expect a whole series is coming, so we will have to see how this one fits in with the others.

—Steven Ritter

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