Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 7

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The novelty of this recording of Beethoven's Fifth and Seventh symphonies is apparent even before you crack open the package or files: no conductor is listed. That's one of the hallmarks of this U.S.-based ensemble, which has been active for decades. But they've never done it with Beethoven, and indeed it's historically a very unusual enterprise. The orchestra, some 20 players strong, is probably smaller than Beethoven's but closer to its size than is a gargantuan modern symphony. In all, the results are quite intriguing. Even if they won't make you replace your Beethoven collection, the performances feel alive, and the live recording includes enthusiastic crowd reactions at the end. This has aspects of a historical performance, although it really isn't one. The small group emphasizes the winds and the brasses, and some of the intense motivic energy in the first movement of the Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67, is lost. But the precision of the leaderless players is impressive, and the whole program has an X factor working in its favor: the performers seem deeply and almost individually engaged with the music. The Symphony No. 5 fares slightly better than the Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92; in the Fifth, the trombone parts retain something of the shock they must have had initially, and the entire performance has a nice coherence. This is a strong accomplishment technically, and the musicians are supported by fine live sound from an uncredited engineer. This album marks the first in-house release from this durable American ensemble, and one can hope for many more from a group that has obviously not gone stale in the least.

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