Greater fire is evident in these performances than in Philippe Jordan’s recent versions of Beethoven’s Symphonies 1 and 3. There is still the modern tendency toward faster tempos but not slavish adherence to the metronome marks that Beethoven added some time after composing his first eight Symphonies. As a guide, Jordan is slower than the metronome-inspired performances of Chailly, Mackerras and Zinman but, overall, swifter than Abbado.
The shadowy opening Adagio of No.4 moves forward firmly yet it retains a suitably dark atmosphere until the Allegro vivace blazes forth – no holding back here; the sweep into the exposition repeat is very exciting. Perhaps those quiet, threatening drum rolls could have been more menacing but by this time we are already prepared for an interpretation where dramatic elements are recognised. The slow movement also moves forward, peacefully with subtle phrasing that never holds back the impetus. A swiftly taken Scherzo features an element of modern-day performance whereby there is barely any reduction of pace for the two Trios. Beethoven asks for them to be Un poco meno allegro and Jordan does just that. In the Allegro ma non troppo Finale, Jordan respects the composer’s modifying words sufficiently to make the challenging woodwind passages reasonably comfortable for the players (bassoon and clarinet manage their fearsome solos perfectly).
The opening of Beethoven 5 grabs the attention – it took until the mid-twentieth-century before Erich Kleiber showed on a recording how this movement should be driven with uncompromising fury with none of the romantic emphases that were so often foisted upon it. Others have taken a similar view (Scherchen was particularly fierce) and Jordan is equally uncompromising; there is not a moment of relaxation – nor should there be. The calmness of the Andante is interrupted boldly by the march-like passages, with strong dynamic contrast – never by change of pace. Jordan is challenging in the Scherzo; this is a powerful reading but when the double basses enter for the Trio, they are unusually swift and lithe, a convincing idea. Then, by making the repeat that Beethoven deleted, an added element of stature is created. In view of Jordan’s chosen speeds, and also his observation of the Finale’s repeat, these proportions make good sense. The build up to the Finale is exciting although the otherwise well-balanced timpani are rather faint when playing pianissimo. Grandeur follows: drama without hurry, steadiness is a virtue in itself and, yes, we do hear those important parts for piccolo and trombones
These are live performances in which the occasional imperfection can be discerned but this is of no consequence and the spacious recording is very satisfying despite the strings lacking impact when playing quietly. Jordan throws positive light on every movement, with well-judged spaces between them (save, of course, the final two of Symphony 5), no audience noise and no applause.