Barenboim - Beethoven For All - MusicWeb International

07 September 2012
MusicWeb International
Brian Wilson

I believe there will be three sets of reactions to these performances, some of them formulated by those who have followed Daniel Barenboim's Beethoven symphony series at the 2012 Proms even before hearing the recordings: those who love his old-fashioned approach, those who hate it and others like myself who enjoy it mostly but find themselves shaking their heads at times and applauding at others. Even in that third category, not everyone will share my preference for Barenboim in lighter mode in Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 7. All in all, then, this is a mixed blessing.

My first impression from hearing the finale of Number 5 and subsequently to Nos. 2 and 4 was that the ‘big' symphonies were being given meaty treatment while the other works, mainly the even-numbered symphonies, were given a lighter treatment. At first I thought the Eroica might be the exception, as it opens in a fairly light manner, but it's not long before Barenboim hammers - or rather drums - home the point that this is Significant Music. Of course the work lends itself to a large-scale treatment but in this category I prefer Klemperer, preferably his earlier mono recording, though the stereo makes a good alternative. The recording, naturally, is no match for the new Decca, especially in 24-bit format, but it's still more than satisfactory.

All Beethoven symphony cycles, of course, lead up to the Ninth and especially to its choral finale, but this does so more than most - I've even seen it suggested, quite feasibly, that Barenboim thought out his approach from the Ninth backwards. Once again this is a big-boned performance right from the outset and will delight those who, like the possibly apocryphal music student who told his professor that Beethoven wrote three symphonies, the Third, the Fifth and the Ninth, view those works as the cornerstones of his symphonic achievement.

Barenboim's Beethoven is really all of a piece and best savoured as such. In any case, the Linn download of the complete set is available at a very reasonable price, ranging from £18 for 320kb/s mp3 to £30 for the 24/96 Studio Master; that compares very favourably with the prices ranging from around £27 to £36 being asked for the CD set. There's no booklet but that's a minor consideration when the 24/44.1 and 24.96 versions come in sound quality superior to CD if your system can handle them. The 24-bit download is excellent, with plenty of dynamic range, though that brings its own problems - at times in the finale of the Ninth the sound almost seems to disappear at listening levels which are comfortable for the rest of the symphony.

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