Kent Nagano

Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 6 & 8; Grosse Fugue

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Continuing Sony's series of Ludwig van Beethoven's symphonies with Kent Nagano and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, this volume pairs the Symphony No. 6 in F major, "Pastorale," with the Symphony No. 8 in F major, and fills the remainder of the first disc with the string orchestra arrangement of the Grosse Fuge in B flat major. The theme for this installment in the series is "In the Breath of Time," and Nagano's essay in the booklet goes into detail about the changing awareness of time in Beethoven's era and how it was treated in his symphonies. Yet this double CD is far more enjoyable for the performances than it is for the conceptualizing behind it, and Nagano's writing and the appended tracks in English and French of David Suzuki's recitation of the environmentalist Declaration of INTERdependence are unnecessary window-dressing. Nagano and the orchestra present the symphonies with excellent musicianship and crisp sonorities, and even the Grosse Fuge is handled with taste, despite the burden of additional strings that always slows down this spry fugue that was originally composed for string quartet. If left to the music, listeners are quite capable of forming their own connections between the works if they choose. But the humanistic extras are greater encumbrances that make this album less about taking joy in Beethoven's music and more about using his music to educate and edify. This is a bit much to ask, but anyone who acquires this package will be more likely to appreciate it for Beethoven's genius than for Sony's earnest presentation.

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