Beethoven: Symphony No. 7/Kleiber

Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

Carlos Kleiber’s best Beethoven Seventh remains his Concertgebouw video. His Vienna recording for DG has discipline going for it, and lively tempos, but the same somewhat mechanical approach to the opening two movements afflicts this newcomer, which features thrilling accounts of the scherzo and finale. In the first movement, Kleiber’s refusal to inflect the music robs it of character. The transition from the introduction to the main allegro has no charm whatsoever, and the general impression once the music gets going is one of breathlessness. And why can’t the orchestra play the opening chords together? They sound squeezed rather than attacked with the necessary precision.

The swift allegretto features a marvelously phrased opening tune, and a totally expressionless view of the counter-theme in violas and cellos, with grace notes minimized in a most unstylish manner. As his father did before him, Kleiber keeps the pizzicato strings right up to the end, which is wrong and sounds more so absent any attempt to phrase the movement’s conclusion with even the slightest hint of a ritard. But as I said, the scherzo trips along enchantingly, and the finale is volcanic, with brilliant horn playing and a real tornado of a coda.

The orchestra plays very well throughout, with oboes particularly outstanding, and the audience is present but well-behaved, offering surprisingly underwhelmed applause at the end. I listened in stereo only; why or how this 1982 production can possibly offer real multi-channel sound I don’t want to know, but the two-channel mastering is very present and impactful. Whether you want or need a 35-minute CD containing only Beethoven’s Seventh, shorn of repeats in its outer movements, obviously is a personal choice. If you have the Concertgebouw video, then you have Kleiber at his best in this music, and you don’t need this new release. But I certainly wouldn’t want to be without the scherzo and finale. They are remarkable.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Blomstedt/Staatskapelle Dresden (Berlin Classics), Bernstein/Vienna (DG)


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