LSO/Gardiner – Beethoven 4 & 7

Nemensfeier Overture, Op.115
Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Reviewed by: Alex Verney-Elliott

Reviewed: 17 February, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Phoptograph: Sheila Rock. ©DeccaSir John Eliot Gardiner’s Beethoven programme (part of a three-season LSO cycle) opened with an exhilarating account of the rarely heard Nemensfeier Overture. First performed on Christmas Day 1815, it written in the aftermath of Napoleon’s defeat in Europe and to celebrate Emperor Francis II of Austria’s Name Day.

After this, Sir John Eliot could not sustain the slow introduction of the Fourth Symphony; it dragged. Then the Allegro vivace was far too fast with textures smudged. It was also too loud in the Barbican Hall’s claustrophobic ‘in your face’ acoustic, the woodwinds somewhat lost in the balance. Unfortunately, this set tone for the rest of the evening.

Balance problems dogged the Seventh Symphony. Although the violins were appositely antiphonal, their division to the ear wasn’t always apparent and the double basses (placed in a row at the back of the platform) and cellos were sometimes barely audible. There was also the schizoid-style of playing: ‘authentic’-sounding strings and timpani with ‘modern day’ woodwinds and brass. The strings were thin, wiry and acidic.

The Allegretto dragged (accents too heavy) and seemed ponderous, the scherzo too fast (some details lost and notes suffocated), and the finale was lightning quick (as with most conductors today, not though with Klemperer or Toscanini in earlier eras): the music became blurred, with no intensity, the timpani grotesquely loud and obliterating the rest of the orchestra. This was noise, not music.

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