Gustav Kuhn

Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 7

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The Haydn Orchestra of Bolzano and Trento, in northeastern Italy, might or might not seem likely to have something worthwhile to add to the long dialogue on Beethoven's symphonies. In the event, however, this disc offers a distinctive interpretation of the Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36, that's worth the time even of those with large collections of Beethoven symphonies. The disc is part of a cycle undertaken by the group and recorded by Germany's Col Legno label; other discs in the series were recorded live, but this one has no crowd noise. Conductor Gustav Kuhn is of Austrian origin, and his readings are of the conservative Viennese sort. His precise, rather deliberate approach works best in the smaller scale. In the Symphony No. 2, he puts the emphasis in an unusual place: on the slow movement, which emerges as a harbinger of the serene acceptance of Beethoven's later music and is linked in the impressionistic, rather-too-breathless booklet notes to the composer's roughly contemporaneous "Heiligenstadt testament," a long unmailed letter in which he bewailed but also came to terms with his encroaching deafness. The following scherzo, which is given a lot of twisting momentum in so many readings, here is very much a Haydn minuet, and the two outer movements are balanced and restrained. The Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, is not so successful; the opening movement somehow fails to cut loose like the riotous thing it is, and the final movement is also quite reined in. The entrance of the horns with their brilliant martial passage in A major is curiously handled: the horns are almost made to blend in with the ensemble. The horns at this point, especially the horns Beethoven knew, would have shocked his audience to the core. The orchestra itself is a nice find, obviously capable of responding to interpretive fine points offered by its conductor, and this pair of symphonies has its place in good Beethoven collections.

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