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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 6 in F, Op.68 – ‘Pastorale’ [45.42]
Symphony No. 7 in A, Op.92 [39.24]
Symphony No. 8 in F, Op.93 [26.07]
Orchestre de Paris, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and Cleveland Orchestra/Rafael Kubelik
rec. Salle Wagram, Paris, 1973; Grosser Saal, Musikverein, Vienna, 1975; Severance Hall, Cleveland, 1975
PENTATONE PTC5186250 SACD [45.42 + 65.31]

This SACD issue is very well remastered from the original Quadraphonic discs from the 1970s. I listened in SACD, but would caution that for those unable to hear them in that format, there are few if any advantages over the very well remastered DG stereo set of these same performances, including the other six symphonies, for little more than 20. Pentatone are gradually releasing all nine symphonies in SACD.

Quadraphonic recordings had a relatively short life. Though thousands of recordings were made, there were issues of compatibility between formats and the experiment had a relatively short life. I recall a BBC TV interview, perhaps in the late 1960s, in which Leopold Stokowski argued that for an authentic listening experience, it was necessary to develop recording systems which surrounded the hearer – after all, he said, in the concert hall we are surrounded by the sound. The Pentatone series of Kubelik’s recrodings certainly capture something of that intent.

The original set of Beethoven symphonies seemed at first sight, something of a gimmick – each symphony would be performed by a different great orchestra with which Kubelik had a link. Nonetheless, nothing could hide the profound musical sensibility of this genuinely great conductor.

His Beethoven might be dismissed by some as unashamedly big-band, in the Klemperer/Karajan tradition. But such a dismissal, as with Klemperer or, to a lesser extent, Karajan, is to miss deep musical values. Kubelik’s Beethoven has immense insight, a leanness and forward momentum unique to himself. His performances were marked always by attention to detail – inner parts emerge clearly and phrasing is never routine.

In the Pastoral, a useful comparison is with Klemperer’s great recording on EMI. Overall, Kubelik’s performance is only a few seconds longer than that of his older friend. The third movement, with the peasant’s dance, is not quite as broad as Klemperer’s legendary slow pace (Klemperer thought of it as a Lndler) but shares with him a sense of the galumphing of a rustic dance. The scene by the brook and final rejoicing are more deliberate than with Klemperer. There is much to admire in this approach, and it is better recorded than the older Philharmonia recording.

Similar qualities of clarity apply to the two other symphonies. The Seventh is very fine, though not perhaps quite a rival of either the great Carlos Kleiber recording or Klemperer’s first (mono) recording for Columbia/EMI. The final movement in the Kubelik lacks the sense of length in the Klemperer and Kleiber renditions. The Eighth Symphony, with the Cleveland Orchestra, is very fine and stands comparison with any performance I have heard. These recordings will not disappoint in their insights or commitment.

Production values, as one would expect from Pentatone, are very high. For those with multichannel equipment, there is no reason to hesitate.

Michael Wilkinson



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