It’s easy to take the revolutionary nature of Beethoven’s Symphonies for granted. But after hearing these explosive, invigorating and electrifying performances, we are reminded once again of the ferocious intensity that must have shell-shocked 19th-century Viennese audiences.
This disc was recorded at a concert in New York’s Carnegie Hall in October 2011. As in his 1990s studio recordings, John Eliot Gardiner brings tremendous rhythmic drive and irresistible forward momentum to both Symphonies and revels in the sheer audacity of Beethoven’s orchestration, enhanced by the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique’s expert use of period instruments. They produce wonderful subtleties of nuance, especially in the Allegretto of the Seventh, where Gardiner brings great warmth and poignancy to the middle section of the movement. Likewise, the Andante con moto of the Fifth displays exquisitely phrased cello melody and expressive woodwind.
Not everything comes off, though. In the expansive introduction to the Seventh, the playing initially seems a bit tentative and the balance unfocused. But the adrenaline really starts to flow once Gardiner launches into the Vivace with its crisp ostinato rhythms. Particularly impressive is the orchestra’s capacity to maintain tension throughout the movement yet with enough petrol in the tank to ratchet things up to even more demonic levels in the coda.