Bertrand de Billy / ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra

Beethoven: Symphony Nos. 7 & 8

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There's no shortage of recordings of Beethoven's Seventh and Eighth symphonies, but this one, with Bertrand de Billy leading the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, belongs to a distinctly contemporary group with an approach explained at length in the booklet notes. Boiled down to its essentials, the idea here is that Beethoven's metronome markings, especially held in the Symphony No. 7, are too fast to be real, were in fact exactly what he intended. There's a certain logic to this; craftsmen in Beethoven's time were certainly capable of making an accurate clock, so it's hard to know why a rampantly inaccurate metronome would have been tolerated. The specific performances here are hard, fast, and dry, and annotator Michael Lewin gives away a lot when he dismisses the common description of the Symphony No. 8 as humorous with a "whatever that may mean." There is hardly another way to describe the intrusion of the flat sixth degree, only to be explained later, into the opening material of the finale of the Symphony No. 8, and the performances in general are just not much fun. The Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, fares better; the pounding rhythms that come through at the high speeds in the outer movements draw the listener's attention to the rhythmic structure, which the notes (in German and English) rightly point out was radical in many respects. Very well recorded with a hard-edged sound well suited to the players' musical aims, this falls into the category of speculative recordings of Beethoven that attempt to break away from Romantic models.

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