As Beethoven cycles come and go, this has got to be one of the best around and is a wonderful tribute to the underrated greatness of Sir Charles Mackerras. These nine symphonies were recorded live at the Edinburgh Festival and are replete with frission, wild abandon and excitement that have rarely been matched.
The first two symphonies are full of lovely touches especially in the slow movements whilst the finales dance around like some well timed "apotheosis of the dance". In the "Eroica", Mackerras conducts with vigour and a fine sense of line, bringing a Klemperer like nobility to the Funeral March and an exhilarating sense of liberation in the final variations movement.
The Fourth Symphony is also beautifully done whilst the Fifth and Sixth make strange bedfellows but with Mackerras at the helm, all is beauty and clarity. I would agree with Richard Osborne who singles out the Eighth as the most satisfying of the cycle but the 7th is also magnificent especially in that miraculous Allegretto.
Some critics have expressed reservations about the change of orchestra to the Philharmonia for the 9th Symphony but I for one can find little to fault in this concluding part of the cycle. This orchestra, well steeped in the great Beethoven post war tradition delivers in all departments with the soloists also on brilliant form. Another plus point in favour of this set are its excellent notes by Misha Donat who analyzes he works quite brilliantly. If you are looking for a Beethoven cycle to start off with then mackerras is your man. And for those who already have a large number of Beethoven sets in their collection (yours truly included), this set is also an essential purchase.
Copyright © 2008, Gerald Fenech