Stefan Blunier / Beethoven Orchester Bonn

Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 6 & 8

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The Beethoven Orchester Bonn ("Wir spielen für Dich" -- We play for you!) likes to promote itself as a kind of civic booster. The idea would have horrified Beethoven, who got out as fast as he could. Nonetheless, the orchestra and music director Stefan Blunier have here come up with one of the more distinctive readings these two symphonies have received in some years. The orchestra, contrary to historical performance practice, but in line with what was actually often done in Beethoven's time, is unusually large, and the variety of shadings and contrasts in the first movement of the Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93, is wide. In the archaic minuet movement of that work, there is a feeling of an old dance being overrun by the tumult of modern times: it comes off in Blunier's hands almost as a forerunner of Ravel's La valse. (In general, these performances look to Beethoven's future, perhaps a bit unidiomatically so, but always imaginatively.) The finale of the Symphony No. 8 is masterful, with the "wrong" C sharp at the beginning treated not as a joke or as an abrupt blast, but as just a hint of the harmonic destabilization to come. The Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 ("Pastoral"), is richly detailed, with some accents in the "Scene at the Brook" second movement that are arguably at odds with what Beethoven wrote, but the storm fourth movement has plenty of power here, and the shepherd's song finale is radiant. The audiophile sound from MDG captures everything that's happening in impressive detail. Some may not get to find out the recording venue; the reviewed copy left it inconclusive by simply listing "Bonn," followed by a comma. Wherever it may have been, this is an extremely engaging and intelligent Beethoven release.

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