BEETHOVEN: Symphonies Nos. 5 and 8 – Royal Flemish Philharmonic/ Philippe Herreweghe, conductor – Pentatone

by | Feb 28, 2008 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Symphonies Nos. 5 and 8 – Royal Flemish Philharmonic/ Philippe Herreweghe, conductor – Pentatone PTC 5186 316 Multichannel SACD, 54 min. ***1/2 [Distr. by Naxos]:

When I first saw the availability of this new Beethoven symphony disc I was immediately excited. Just last year, I had the good fortune to review another Beethoven pairing of the Fourth and Seventh symphonies by this same orchestra and conductor on the Belgian label Talent – a magical recording, by the way – and was hoping for more of the same magic. Upon opening the disc and inspecting the liner notes, I was quite surprised; I was greeted by the identical (although with a slightly rougher translation) quote from Philippe Herreweghe, expounding upon the virtues of playing Beethoven with a modern, though historically informed orchestra. I immediately grabbed the Talent disc, and sure enough, the quote was almost verbatim. I then checked the discs’ technical information, and surprise again, same recording team, etc., although the recording date was two years later and a different venue. I thought Pentatone used Polyhymnia for all their recordings – obviously not. The good news is that the performances given here are totally in keeping with the excellent Talent disc, and will make a strong case for inclusion in your library; if you’re a fan of the RFP and Herreweghe, this disc is a must-have.

Unfortunately, there is bad news as well – this disc just isn’t in the same league sonically as the aforementioned Talent disc, which absolutely sparkled from the word go, and set a new standard for me personally for SACD reproduction. It’s just amazing what a difference a truly first-rate venue makes to a recording, and in this instance, the venue is the only difference. I can offer no other explanation to define how one disc is truly exceptional, and another is merely just very good, when essentially the same input has been applied for both. Good acoustics are everything – even the best conductor and orchestra can’t overcome poor or mediocre acoustics. I still give this disc my recommendation – the performances are superb, the acoustics are also good, just not as magnificent as they could be.

— Tom Gibbs 

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