For a long time the second movement of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony was thought to have been based on a canon he jotted down in honour of the inventor of the metronome, Johann Maelzel. The canon has since been shown to have been a forgery.
In 1817, the year the Symphony was first published, Beethoven provided metronome markings not only for this piece but also for all his previous works of the kind. Many of those markings seem improbably fast, and they have proved to be controversial, to say the least; but John Eliot Gardiner takes them seriously and there are some hair-raisingly quick tempos here. In the opening movement of Symphony No 2 it’s possible to feel that a less sweeping performance would have allowed for more clarity of detail and greater weight, but there’s no doubting the visceral excitement of the playing. The slow movement of the same work receives a glowing performance, with Gardiner not afraid to allow the strings to use portamento for expressive effect. His easing of the tempo as the music turns to the minor at the start of the middle section is another nice touch.
The Eighth Symphony is a work with comparatively lightweight middle movements, but a colossal finale that’s one of Beethoven’s greatest symphonic pieces. Here, the articulation of the playing, again at whirlwind speed, is truly impressive, especially in the main subject with its rapid-fire repeated notes. The recording is on the dry side, but impeccably clear.