* BEETHOVEN: Symphonies Nos. 1 – 9; Triple Concerto; Leonore Overture No. 2 – London Symphony Orchestra/ Bernard Haitink (live recordings) – LSO Live

by | Mar 10, 2007 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Symphonies Nos. 1 – 9; Triple Concerto; Leonore Overture No. 2 – London Symphony Orchestra/ Bernard Haitink (live recordings) – LSO Live Multichannel SACDs (6 discs) – Special Edition  LSO0598 *****: We’ve been reviewing some of the symphonies in this series individually as they were released, but I thought it time to comment on the entire package – even if just to make it known that the small group of Beethoven sets available on SACD has had another member. If superb sonic reproduction is your first criterion, this set wins hands down. It’s amazing how uniformly accurate the LSO players are considering these are all live performances, and the 5.0 channel mix captures perfectly the ambiance of their Barbizon concert hall venue. I saw a slight negative comment in one review of the set that the bass reproduction was a bit thin, but I found the bass and kettledrums strong and impactful, in some instances almost at Telarc levels.

These are brilliant interpretations, with a feeling of great energy and thrust not found on many Beethoven symphony recordings, and not found to such a degree in earlier recordings Haitink made with the Concertgebouw. Perhaps the occasion of the live recording was a factor in the fresh and propulsive tone of these performances. There is a wonderful flow to the interpretations and an emphasis on the rhythmic structure of all of them. Even the overdone Fifth sounds vital and new, and the Pastoral Symphony is one of the best of the set – though they are all excellent. The Ninth provides a glorious wrap up to the set. The soloists are first rate, the chorus comes thru clearly, and – just as with the choral-orchestral climaxes in Mahler symphonies – SACD delineates all the various textures without becoming an amorphous tangle, as with most 44.1K CDs.

This is the full London Symphony – not a downsized original instrument ensemble – but the transparency of the multichannel sound never lets the music pile up in an opaque snarl as on many standard CD versions. While Haitink doesn’t claim to follow the ‘historically-informed” line, he shows a number of updated practices in the performances, such as more brisk tempi and better balances of the various sections. There is major competition in the standard CD area, but in SACDs this would be my choice. I’m not a Karajanist, and anyway the sonics of his series on SACD can’t hold a candle to Haitink’s. The Triple Concerto is an unexpected and welcome filler, and the compact packaging will take up minimum space on your shelf. By the way, this set was one of the 2006 Grammy nominations for Best Classical Album of the Year.  For good reason.

– John Sunier

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