Is this what Beethoven certainly envisioned for the performance of his music? I don't know. But has anyone certainly came as closer to what is proper as in this CD? I doubt so.
"Authentic", or- you name it- Historically Orientated Performances of Romantic pieces are for sure no easy tasks. On one side, you have all the weight of the modern masters- names like Böhm, Backhaus, Fürtwangler, just to name a couple of them-, men and women who became legends for their performance playing and conducting romantic repertoire. On the other hand, there is a huge difficult on the musicological field, as the romantic period represented the transition between antique and modern in terms of performance and instrumentation, making us question how necessary is authentic performance of a romantic piece to truly understand its spirit. These questions, I am afraid, have been already positively answered by the Historically Performance Movement on the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and even Classical repertoire, yet the answers have been only lately drafted for the Romantic period.
This recording is no easy listen for people used with the modern approach. Uncautious listeners may say how historical instruments sound "poor", with their low volume and dynamics. That is wrong. What they don't have in terms of volume and dynamics, they have in terms of richness in harmonics, and subtlety in expression. They have a fantastic, rich tone- much richer than the modern instruments (this applies to any modernized Stradivarius), specially violins, who have sacrified a tone rich in harmonics for dynamics, sound volume, and an sterile buzz that had to be compensated with its virtues. That is the first hard point to get used to- different instruments mean different languages. Baroque violins sound for sure much better for Bach, and they can't perform Bartók or Mahler; but how good can they sound for Beethoven?
This is not the overly-dramatic bloodbath Romantism that we are used to, with high-pitched violin outcries and piercing dynamic range. The modern approach is a product of the course of history, and is a valid, yet distorted vision of the Romantic. Paradoxically, it is an overly-romantic approach of the Romantic period, with an unecessary need for exaggeration to achieve expression. This recording will show you how the early romantic period- I am not talking about Mahler and Wagner- can be subtle, yet highly dramatic, with the emotional content not resting on expression conveying from exaggeration, but rather on a more subtle approach. In a bad but useful analogy, it shows, as in cinema, that you don't need vulgar imagery to convey strong drama.
The performers were cautious in the choice of repertoire- as other reviewer said, it is Early Romantic, and very close to the classicism. This has given a safe edge to performers, which don't have to cope with some of the most difficult questions regarding historical performance of romantic music. The instruments are adequate, as is the tuning, and as are the dynamics applied.
Give this record a try. These are new grounds, but rather solid ones. You can't see this with the modern eyes, but rather on the historical perspective.
If you don't think this is enough, you may want to see the glowing reviews of this recording on european magazines- Diapason (Diapason d'Or), Monde de La Musique (Choc), Luister (10/10), and Gramophone (Editor's Choice).