Four years ago, Colin Clarke praised
the Manchester Camerata’s debut disc on Avie, which paired
live performances of Beethoven’s second and fifth symphonies
at budget price. In 2008 the second instalment in the Manchester
Camerata’s projected cycle of live Beethoven symphony recordings
has arrived, this time in the premium price bracket. Are these
premium performances? Certainly Avie's production values,
with fine booklet notes contributed by Barry Cooper, are second
to none. The recorded sound is transparent but natural, with
winds and strings well balanced - as much a product of Boyd's
direction and his orchestra's size as of the engineering.
Any minor imperfections in ensemble in these live performances
do not detract materially from the listener’s enjoyment and
audience noise is minimal. And the performances themselves?
Sincere, committed, measured and detailed. Enjoyable and satisfying?
Yes. Exciting and overwhelming? No.
The fourth receives a warmly expressive reading.
Textures are light, dynamics and markings keenly observed,
and phrasing classically poised – just listen to the lilting
strings and cooing horns in the second movement adagio. The
overall effect is not so much unbuttoned in the manner of,
say, Vänskä as slightly relaxed. A feeling of lightness pervades
the opening allegro vivace, which is given space to breath,
though rhythmic pointing in the third and fourth movements
ensures that the moderate tempi do not sap momentum.
The seventh fares just as well. The first movement
opens with an almost dreamy introduction before the vivace
dances away. In the third movement, the attractive chuckling
rhythms delight almost as much as the whooping horns with
their telescoped crescendo and decrescendo. Minimal vibrato
breathes a chill wind into the second movement. The finale
is of a piece with the rest of the performance, but would
benefit from more abandon.
Competition is fiercer in Beethoven symphonies
than in just about any other field of recorded classical music.
Whether these poised, detailed performances will inspire you
comes down to interpretative preference.
For me, the best of recent fourths remains
Osmo Vänska's on BIS,
which pulses with excitement even as it illuminates the score.
Haitink's exciting live traversal with the LSO runs Vänska
a close second. I have not yet heard Vänska's recently released
seventh, though it has already been praised in
these pages, but again Haitink
and the LSO are the best of the rest of the recent recordings
I have heard. Downloaders may also want to investigate the
recordings of the Manchester Camerata’s northern neighbours,
the BBC Philharmonic, that were made available by the BBC
during the Beethoven Experience back in 2005. Chandos’ Classical
Shop has made the cycle – including the fourth
and the seventh
– available in high quality mp3 sound. While not quite as
detailed or as tidy as the readings from Boyd and his band,
Noseda and the BBC Phil are tremendously exciting. Of course,
all of these alternative recordings feature modern symphony
orchestras rather than chamber orchestras like the Manchester
If looking for a coupling of these two symphonies
Greenhalgh’s recent review suggests that Paavo Järvi,
conducting a Bremen orchestra of similar size, may be your
man for more explosive performances than these. Of the classics
in the back catalogue you would be hard pressed to do better
That said, these fresh, enjoyable Mancunian accounts are worth