Alexander Rudin / Musica Viva Chamber Orchestra

Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 6

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Russian conductor Alexander Rudin, not at all known for Beethoven, leads the Moscow chamber ensemble Musica Viva in this release from Belgium's Fuga Libera label, and in two extremely well-trodden Beethoven symphonies the assembled musicians manage to produce distinctive readings. Musica Viva is an unconventional group whose repertory includes music from the Baroque to modern times, and the Beethoven owes little to grand Russian traditions. The chief innovation here is that Rudin takes almost all the tempos faster than usual, slightly faster in the Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21, and a good deal faster in the Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68, "Pastoral." The latter work is the real news here. Rudin aims for a quick, agile, delicate sound and in the main achieves it. Several movements have relationships between their individual parts entirely different from what the listener is used to, and mostly these new ideas make musical sense. Consider the blankly melodic subsidiary theme of the slow movement, dropping down stepwise to F and rising to the tonic B flat; here Rudin avoids Brahmsian warmth completely and turns the passage into a small detail. In general he strips the Romantic program music out of the symphony and turns it into something with a more conventional feel. The summer-storm music does not work so well; the instrumentalists give it their best, but the music still doesn't sound as if it were written to be played at these speeds. The Symphony No. 1 is crisp, quick, and lacking in strong accents; it, too, looks backward rather than forward. The handsome design of the CD includes a full catalog of Fuga Libera releases but does not make room for a booklet specifically devoted to this one. An intriguing Beethoven release of interest to listeners with Beethoven libraries of any size.

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