These are solid performances in crystal clear sound. Indeed, sonically this is one of the finest Naxos efforts to date: natural, warm, and open. The Esterházy Sinfonia consists of members of the Hungarian Symphony and was originally formed to make CDs for this label, though apparently they now give public concerts. Their "permanent conductor" is flutist Bela Drahos, which may account for the excellence and beauty of the orchestra's wind playing. The string body is small, but very polished. Modern instruments are employed – and that's all to the good, unless you absolutely must have period instruments.
Drahos's conducting is straight-forward, indeed, some might say, straight-laced. Tempos are comfortably "middle-of-the-road". The "Pastoral" Sixth flows along tenderly, but the fiery First is rather too gentle here. Nonetheless, this is a good introduction to these two Beethoven Symphonies, if you're on a very tight budget that is.
If you want Beethoven with more character – not to mention some much needed spunk – look to Furtwängler, Walter, Scherchen, or Bernstein. However, all of these great conductors made their recordings in the analog era, and that means more or less tape hiss, depending on the age of the recording.
Copyright © 1997, Tom Godell