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Beethoven - Symphony No.4
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 14 February 2012
What an extraordinary performance of Beethoven 4 this is.

Beethoven - and especially his symphonies - has become so familiar to us, so much an integral part of Western culture, that it's extremely difficult to imagine the sheer radical newness and differentness of them to his contemporaries. Today we are reduced to discussions about the feasibility and/or desirability of Beethoven's metronome markings, the ideal bore for a period brass instrument, Furtwangler's febrile twisting and turning of tempi vs. Toscanini's rhythmic precision, Klemperer's slowness vs. Norrington's speed and so on. The shock and awe of the original is hard, if not impossible, to recapture.

But Kleiber and his Bavarian players come closer than anyone else, I think, in bringing us up short and reminding us just how startlingly original Beethoven could be. The 4th has long vied with the 7th in my affections as my favourite Beethoven symphony (not necessarily the best, though the 7th can lay strong claims to that too, but certainly favourites). It is their incredible rhythmic vitality and their inherent tensions that I always find so invigorating and exciting. And that is precisely the strength of this performance.

In many ways, the Fourth is the most classical of Beethoven's mature symphonies - in form if not in content. The opening movement has a slow introduction, then an exposition with repeat (which it doesn't get here, incidentally) and a modified recapitulation; Beethoven actually calls this Scherzo a minuet, even though it might have raised a few eyebrows among that dance's advocates in the baroque era; and there's a finale that mixes classical rondo and sonata forms. But, within that classical frame lurks something wonderfully subversive and original. And that's what Kleiber and his Bavarian forces promulgate and elaborate so thrillingly.

In that slow introduction, for example, the fierce tension that Kleiber finds seems to lie as much in the interstices between the notes as in the notes themselves. How does he do that? Then the Allegro vivace sets off at quite a lick and with enormous energy. There is barely time to draw breath with the second subject's moment of calm before we are off again, surging through to a coda which deconstructs the 1st subject with alarming and thrilling syncopations and rhythmic verve.

The second movement offers no respite from this rhythmic drive. Its main subject is soon undermined by that insistent dotted rhythm and the forte eruptions of that rhythmic figure cast a dark shadow over the movement.

In the so-called minuet Kleiber again takes its slightly off-kilter rhythm as the focus for his reading, punching through with all the drive of a fully-fledged Beethoven scherzo. And the almost moto perpetuo onrush of the semiquaver figure underlying so much of the Finale puts this movement in very much the same world as the Finale of the Seventh in its thrilling drive to the end.

As with his Sixth and Seventh Symphonies also from Munich, Kleiber's Fourth comes pretty close, if not right at the top, for a recommendation for this symphony. Yes, his speeds tend to be on the quick side but this is more in the Toscanini mould than from the Norrington or Gardner school. Do try this wonderful live performance; it absolutely bristles with excitement and panache and one can almost see that wonderful Kleiber grin of pure musical pleasure in every bar.
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