John Eliot Gardiner / Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique

Beethoven: The Symphonies

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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson

The 1990s were a peak period for historically informed performances, and the most praised box set to emerge from this boom time was John Eliot Gardiner's 1994 survey of Ludwig van Beethoven's nine symphonies, brilliantly played on original instruments by the redoubtable Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. If any early music conductor or authentic practice ensemble ever succeeded in changing public opinions and transforming standard repertoire, surely top honors belong to Gardiner and his musicians, for their refreshing takes on Beethoven's core masterpieces not only won over many converts to the cause, but permanently changed the way these works are played. The crisp sonorities, the brisk rhythms, and the volatile energy of these electric performances proved once and for all that Classical performances need not be fragile, dainty, or rarefied, but should be just as robust and invigorating as any mainstream interpretation, and even more exciting for taking a few risks. Indeed, it was Gardiner's ear-opening set that showed how stodgy and sluggish many of the older established Beethoven cycles sounded in comparison, and after this set was released, most new recordings revealed its impact, particularly in the adoption of revised tempos, leaner textures, and cleaner sonorities. Traditionalists may still balk at Gardiner's interpretations or find his changes unnerving (particularly the quicker tenor solo in the finale of the Ninth), but no one who claims to know the symphonies should ignore this set, for its significance in Beethoven studies cannot be overrated. Highly recommended.

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