Drahos's Beethoven is, to borrow from a George Bush political slogan, a "kinder, gentler" Beethoven. In the 5th, which appropriately begins on track 5, he points up the energy and passion, but eschews the grim urgency that so many conductors stress. Not that his is a soggy or wimpy reading, mind you. Quite the contrary – Drahos catches the fatalistic neurosis and dire elements, all right, but within a framework that self-consciously subjugates the musical conflicts to the instrumental limitations. Note: the orchestra is augmented here, but still sounds closer in size to the ensembles performing this work in Beethoven's time than to modern orchestras. Thus, the finale, for example, sounds less historically radical in Drahos's hands, but still comes across with glorious energy and triumphant ecstasy. It's as if Beethoven is cleansed of modern impurities without quite reverting to historic practices. In any event, the performance is an effective one: moderate in tempo, standard (but not stolid) in phrasing, it sparkles from the committed playing of the orchestra and the deft shaping of the score by Drahos. In the end, you get a Fifth that is a worthy competitor among the dozens in the catalog. It's especially worth your attention considering the budget price.
I could simply write "ditto" for the performance of the Second, for it also offers the same felicitous features. I've heard most of the issues from this whole marvelous Drahos cycle, in fact, and can say that they challenge most of the better ones. The fact that they are in the budget realm makes them all the more appealing. Yes, Harnoncourt, Bernstein (DG), Szell, Toscanini and others command our attention, too. But you won't go wrong with any of the Drahos/Naxos offerings.
Copyright © 1998, Robert Cummings