Conductor Giovanni Antonini and the Basel Chamber Orchestra (c. 40 players) recorded these two Beethoven symphonies in late November 2004 and mid-June 2005, respectively. The ensemble utilizes urtext editions, alternating tenuto and staccato passages according to the best lights within Beethoven’s sometimes quick metronome markings. The instruments themselves are a mix of natural horns and trumpets with modern woodwinds, the violins modern instruments strung with gut strings played on classical bows. The result is a hearty blend of drama and deft agogic articulation, as required. The surround sound captures Beethoven’s emergent, spatial style with a refreshing clarity of detail. The Andante cantabile con moto of the First Symphony benefits from the sonic exposure of Beethoven’s openwork, making of the movement a divertimento of delicate refinement. The key changes and rhythmic shifts, marked by limpid coloration from oboe and violas, enjoy a rare, gratifying transparency. Alex Waeber’s active tympani part contributes a firm resolve to the occasional explosions that mark Beethoven’s ethos. He sparkling last movement has as much Rossini as German demonism.
The D Major Symphony permits us to savor the sudden contrasts in dynamics as well as in tonality. The sforzati and rocket figures project a clean, incisive delivery and resonance. The energy level is high, the lines crisp. The chamber orchestra medium allows us to indulge in those graduated decrescendos and sustained pedal points and bask in their whiplash sonority. The Larghetto in this rendition owes huge debts to Mozart’s cassation style; Antonini takes it as an andantino of studied contrasts in texture. The Scherzo and Finale: Allegro molto move with a lilt and heroic power that point to musical things to come in this composer’s individual journey. The coda becomes a miniature drama giocosa in itself, a tempest barely contained by the classical strictures Beethoven himself would soon redefine. Effervescent Beethoven!
— Gary Lemco