Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Symphony No. 6 "Pastoral"
Leonore Overture No. 3

Saito Kinen Orchestra - Seiji Ozawa.
recorded at Nagano-Ken Bunka Kaikan, Matsumoto-Shi, 8, 10/12 September 1998.
Philips 462 595-2 [55.32]

It is very fashionable in this country to severely criticise Seiji Ozawa for almost anything he does. His current record company, Philips, seem to reinforce this view by choosing quite dour photographs of him, in somewhat drab sleeves. The current example is no exception, looking as it does a colour photograph of the artist over which has been applied a purple wash. Seiji Ozawa from his facial expression seems also to be very worried about something - probably how the disc will sell with such abysmal presentation.

As if that were not enough, Philips has also seen fit to supply this issue with only 55 minutes of music, which in today's market is somewhat niggardly. However, once we have got these points out of the way, we have here a very well played Pastoral, coupled with an extremely exciting performance of the best known of the four Overtures written by Beethoven to preface his only opera.

The Saito Kinen Orchestra was formed in 1984 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the death of Hideo Saito - conductor, cellist and influential teacher. His advocacy of teaching music to children at an early age led to the establishment of the Toho Gakuen School of Music. All the members of the orchestra are past members of this school. They are all teachers, soloists or famous chamber players throughout the world who come together to play in the months of August and September. Many of them are prize winners of prestigious competitions and this shows clearly in the sound of their collective playing. Seiji Ozawa was appointed with Kazuyoshi Akiyama as co-principal conductors, and Ozawa has recorded with them almost every year since they were formed.

This is one of their latest offerings and the standard of the playing is of an extremely high standard, due in part to the player's collective virtuosity, but also to the leadership of their principal conductor. The playing just cannot be faulted, and Ozawa uses this to present an extremely well prepared exposition of the score. Allied to this, the recording is excellent, a feature of almost all of this orchestra's recordings to date. The symphony moves along at a very natural pace, my only slight concern is that there is little evidence of the struggle which most of Beethoven's mature works display - it is almost as though the orchestra was playing a little on auto-pilot. This is not a unique fault - plenty of modern day releases suffer from this problem.

The overture however ends with real excitement - as though someone has lit the blue touch paper - timpani quite prominent and a really satisfying conclusion to the earlier drama of the work.

Although this disc will not displace Karl Bohm, Andre Cluytens, Erich Kleiber, Gunther Wand, and/or Bruno Walter (not counting the period performances which are not strictly comparable), it is well worth hearing and should give a lot of enjoyment. This is provided you can get past the feeling that you shouldn't really like Ozawa. For me, he is far from being discountable. Added to this we get playing and sound of superb quality which enhances this release considerably. For a modern coupling of these works it is a very good issue indeed.

John Phillips

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