Marek Janowski / WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln

Beethoven: Symphonies 5 & 6

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Widely known for his audiophile recordings of Wagner and Bruckner on Pentatone, Marek Janowski has waited for the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven's birth to launch his cycle of the 9 symphonies with the WDR Symphony Orchestra. (The release of the Missa Solemnis in 2017 anticipated a shift in Janowski's attentions, though this 2018 recording of the Symphony No. 5 in C minor and the Symphony No. 6 in F major, "Pastoral," show an intention to mark the anniversary.) Beyond the celebration, this is an important contribution to the Beethoven catalog, a rare compromise among interpretations. Janowski is clearly not part of the movement for historically informed performances, so the instrumentation and the size of the orchestra are modern. However, Janowski takes repeats where indicated, eschews excessively reverent tempos, and strives for a transparent sound, though how he achieves this requires different approaches in the two symphonies. For the Symphony No. 5, taking a cue from the opening "fate" motive, Janowski emphasizes strong accents and a punchy delivery that doesn't allow much room for rubato or sluggishness. Instead, the forceful playing opens spaces in Beethoven's textures and makes the constant use of the 3+1 rhythm clear and necessary to the coherence of the whole. In contrast, the "Pastoral" is more relaxed and lighter in feeling, and the clarity of the orchestra is mostly due to Janowski's sense of balance and restraint, not any reduction in the ensemble's numbers. Essentially, Janowski has achieved a welcome compromise between the traditionalists and the revisionists, and both sides have reason to expect interesting results with the rest of the symphonies.

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