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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21 (1799-1800) [26:27]
Symphony No. 5 in C Minor Op. 67 (1807) [30:47]
Beethoven Orchester Bonn/Stefan Blunier
rec. 29-31 May 2012, Bonn

How wonderful it is to hear these two symphonies which have been so much part of my life over the years. My music teacher at school in Oxford in the late 1960s introduced us to Beethoven 1 in our music class. I was hooked, having previously only known the Pastoral, still my favourite. Right from the opening the thirty year old Beethoven is making a statement at the start of a new century. Heaven knows how many versions I’ve listened to, from the exciting Mengelberg through to Rattle, Most have been superb experiences. The only problem is that there are just so many - never too many - to chose from! With most available recordings over the past sixty years in good sound this newcomer faces fierce competition.
Stefan Blunier and his Beethoven Orchester were new to me. That said, several of their recordings have been reviewed on MWI and I read these accounts prior to listening to this disc. Their version of Number 1 is fine as it goes but some of the magic of this work was missing. The recording is also not as good as expected yet it was made only last year. Blunier seems to concentrate on detail rather than overall structure. Turning to Klemperer live in Vienna (review) and in moderate sound - which I got on the strength of my colleague John Quinn’s review - or Karajan in his 1962 cycle on DG the playing and the spirit was on a totally different level.
Blunier’s Beethoven 5 is a better performance and one which I enjoyed. The Bonn orchestra are certainly fine players and hearing them in the concert hall would be a joy. Disconcertingly Blunier doesn’t take the recapitulation in the final movement and that just sounds wrong here. For comparison I returned to Carlos Kleiber’s famous recording on DG and was struck by the power and sense of occasion. The sound too of the VPO from the 1970s is still excellent.
In the end even if the Beethoven market weren’t saturated it would be difficult to be very positive about this record. Even so, I was very pleased to hear this very good orchestra and these works again. The performances are fine as far as they go and at budget price would be worthy of a listen. Sadly, at full price they cannot be recommended.
David R Dunsmore