Symphony No.2 in D, Op.36
Symphony No.6 in F, Op.68 (Pastoral)
Orchestre National de France
Recorded on 7 and 14 November 2002 in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: September 2004
CD No: NAÏVE V 4971
Duration: 74 minutes
With countless recordings of Beethoven symphonies, not least from Kurt Masur himself, it seems a little rash to heap onto the pile another version of two of them.
One of the first things Masur programmed with his new French orchestra was a Beethoven cycle. Whether Naïve is planning to issue the whole thing I know not. These well prepared, freshly played performances of the Pastoral and Second symphonies (in that order on the CD), all repeats observed, are both enjoyable and are played in a tradition that one associates with Masur’s Leipzig lineage, the fruits of a lifetime’s experience. Masur sticks to the way that he knows, but he isn’t moribund.
The contours of the Pastoral are gratefully shaped; there is flow, clarity of detail, and Masur’s engagement with the music is as deep as ever. The orchestral response sparkles, is unanimously sounded (Masur always obtains a disciplined response) and the woodwind playing is especially characterful. Expect no revelations, though. That said, Masur, in an interview in the booklet, mentions a “new” Breitkopf & Härtel edition that he is using (rather than the much-favoured Bärenreiter one). However cleaned-up the text may now be, Masur gives a wholesome view of it; it’s the clarity of articulation that has a ‘re-discovered’ feel to it, sentimentality and mawkishness avoided.
The dynamic Symphony No.2 is given a lithe and robust reading, very energetic; the music, even the ‘slow’ introduction, free-flowing, the whole symphony poised, controlled and expressive, the latter quality much to the fore in the Larghetto second movement. Throughout the D major work there is a vitality that is irresistible – although the tempo relationship between the Minuet and Trio is miscalculated – and Masur’s absolute faith in the music is tangible; listen for his exhorting ‘shout’ at 0’14” in the finale. There are but a few passages in both works that one would want ‘taken again’.
The spacious acoustic can be a little cavernous, the orchestra somewhat remote at times, but here are two interpretations at once familiar and new-minted.