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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDS44301/5
Recording details: August 2006
Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland
Produced by Bill Lloyd
Engineered by Matt Parkin & Mike Hatch
Release date: September 2007
Total duration: 31 minutes 25 seconds

'Hyperion's set is that early evening Beethoven cycle caught in recordings of remarkable intimacy and focus … it is a set I would happily put into the hands of any aspiring young music lover … Beethoven conducting and playing doesn't come much better than this' (Gramophone)

'So magnificently exhilharating an account' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Mackerras's rapport with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra is exceptional, leading not only to stylish performances but also to conveying an infectious sense of enjoyment … a set that takes some beating for all-round satisfaction' (The Sunday Telegraph)

'Anything that Mackerras does is worth listening to: he is one of the pioneering generation of early-music performers in the decade or so before early orchestral instruments were available, and who can now let his experience with them enhance his work with main-stream orchestras' (Early Music Review)

'If there has been a more thrilling and elemental Beethoven cycle than this new Charles Mackerras set made in the last two decades, I certainly haven't heard it. This is a great cycle, and one that leapfrogs straight into the pantheon of indispensable recordings of these works … this is a Beethoven red in tooth and claw, a questing revolutionary who took the symphony by the scruff of its neck and produced a series of nine astonishing masterpieces as a consequence … the revelations of the Hyperion set make it even more desirable … what survives the transfer from concert-hall to disc is the towering authority and searing urgency of these performances … in the first two symphonies, Mackerras catches the urgency and rhythmic life of Beethoven's music with inspiring vigour … the SCO plays with total conviction, and attention to detail means that inner parts do much to energize the music, to light it in from within … an immediacy and sheer musicality that is enthralling … if you already have one Beethoven cycle—or a dozen of them—I would still urge you to investigate the marvellous new set on Hyperion: it is one of the most compelling and imaginative to have appeared for many years, and it is certianly one of the front-runners among those currently available. I can't think of another I'd rather hear … there's not a weak link in the cycle, the playing is both red-hot and immensely stylish, and Mackerras's conducting has a fire, life, expressive intensity and volcanic energy that let us rediscover these great works anew. It's simply magnificent' (International Record Review)

'The latest thoughts of this always stimulating and searching Beethovenian are welcome indeed … his tempi are wonderfully fleet, without sounding driven … Mackerras allows the music to unfold so naturally that you are hardly aware of the conductor's presence—although the wealth of details that seems to rise organically out of the perfomances, rather than being artificially highlighted, reveals the wisdom of a master interpreter … this is a Beethoven cycle to live with' (The Sunday Times)

'As uncompromising and lived-in Beethoven as anyone could hope to hear' (Classic FM Magazine)

'This set of the Beethoven symphonies may well become a standard by which to evaluate both past and future performances—it certainly will be for me … this set receives my highest recommendation' (Fanfare, USA)

'In Mackerras's experienced hands, the music palpably speaks of the dawn of Romanticism—as much in the flare of brass and grain of strings as in the supple 'spring' and energy he summons from it … the Ninth reveals what a superior musician Mackerras is, as he creates a joyous sense of ferment' (Financial Times)

'This Beethoven Five was a seamlessly integrated interpretation and performance which refreshed the best known of all symphonies. That's why it was special. This performance was suffused with the shock of the new' (The Herald)

'The opening of the Pastoral is eager and mobile, the first movement of the Fifth Symphony quite aerobic. The tenor solo in the Ninth Symphony (one case where Beethoven's metronome marking probably is a mistake) is giddily apt to Friedrich von Schiller's text. Again and again, the ear is caught by a little stretching of pace for rhetorical effect, or by an elegant shaping of an inner voice. Both orchestras respond eagerly and well, as does the Edinburgh Festival Chorus in the Ninth Symphony. The Ninth, which drives to an electrifying end, also has a fine vocal quartet in Janice Watson, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Stuart Skelton and Detlef Roth. Sir Charles was 80 at the time of these recordings, and an introductory note by festival director Brian McMaster describes these as 'a valediction to a lifetime of making music'. If so, they're a splendid coda to a distinguished career … a top choice for a Beethoven cycle on CD' (The Dallas Morning News)

'In short, there are no missteps, nothing that isn't stylish, idiomatic, and fully in keeping with the spirit of the music. The sonics are well-balanced and realistic … this is certainly a Beethoven cycle to live with … the music-making has a spontaneity and sense of occasion that remain quite special. I have no doubt at all that when future generations name the great conductors of the latter half of the 20th century, Mackerras will stand high on the list, and this set is fully worthy of him' (

'This recording manages to capture the sense of excitement and sometimes shock that these works must have engendered in their first audiences. That makes this a set to be treasured' (

Symphony No 5 in C minor, Op 67
summer 1807

Allegro con brio  [7'04]
Andante con moto  [8'44]
Scherzo: Allegro  [4'55]
Allegro – Presto  [10'42]

Other recordings available for download
Philharmonia Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnányi (conductor)
London Symphony Orchestra, Bernard Haitink (conductor)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Beethoven worked on his fifth and sixth symphonies more or less simultaneously, in the summer of 1807, but the two works are as different as could be imagined. To us, Symphony No 5 is the epitome of Beethovenian defiance, and its famous opening gesture seems vividly to conjure up the image of the composer shaking his fist. Yet for Beethoven’s contemporary E T A Hoffmann (author of the celebrated tales) the work embodied the very essence of musical romanticism. ‘Rising in a single climax right up to its end’, wrote Hoffmann in a lengthy review, ‘this symphony displays Beethoven’s romanticism more than does any other of his works, and carries the listener irresistibly into the wondrous spirit world of the infinite.’

One aspect of the symphony that struck Hoffmann forcibly was its inner unity. Even a listener coming to the work for the first time will immediately connect the ‘knocking’ rhythmic figure which runs through the scherzo with the four-note motif of the symphony’s opening bars. The first movement itself is a locus classicus of symphonic unity, with the omnipresent ‘fate’ rhythm acting as an accompaniment to the warmly lyrical second subject. The mood changes again in the recapitulation, where the oboe breaks in to the opening subject with a miniature cadenza of great expressive depth. The oboe’s melody is actually a variant of the bars that precede it, but the contrast is overwhelming.

Behind the slow movement lies the shadow of the double variation design so assiduously cultivated by Haydn, in which two themes—one in the major, the other in the minor—are varied alternately. Beethoven’s design is abridged, with the second theme consisting of little more than a short-lived blaze of C major—as though in anticipation of the ultimate triumph of that key embodied in the symphony’s finale; and following the third variation the C major idea disappears altogether, leaving the remainder of the canvas to be filled with an elaboration of the first theme.

Beethoven had originally intended to have two statements each of the scherzo and trio, followed by the pianissimo da capo, but a last-moment change of heart led him to delete the long repeat of scherzo and trio. He may have feared that the extended form would weaken the symphony’s most revolutionary idea—the interruption of the finale with a further reprise of the scherzo. The change of colour for the return of the scherzo following the trio, with braying horns replaced by delicate pizzicatos, and the atmosphere of hushed mystery maintained throughout, is an astonishingly original stroke. Towards the end, the inner strings sustain a long-held note while the timpani gently tap out a rhythmic figure, before a crescendo of tremendous force propels the music forwards into the finale.

The finale’s emergence out of the shadowy scherzo—and with it the first use in a symphony by a great composer of trombones and piccolo—is a shattering moment, and one whose effect can scarcely be blunted by familiarity. The progress from darkness to light is renewed at the end of the finale’s powerful development section, with the reprise of the scherzo. This time the ensuing C major triumph has perforce to be even more assertive, and it is largely this that necessitates a Presto coda ending with more than fifty fortissimo bars of pure C major—a glorious victory for the forces of light.

from notes by Misha Donat © 2007

Other albums featuring this work
'Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 1 & 5' (LSO0590)
Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 1 & 5
MP3 £6.50FLAC £6.50ALAC £6.50 Studio Master: FLAC 24-bit 96 kHz £9.75ALAC 24-bit 96 kHz £9.75 LSO0590  Download only   Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 3 & 5' (SIGCD169)
Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 3 & 5
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99 SIGCD169  for the price of 1 — Download only  

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