Roger Norrington’s rapidly evolving second Beethoven cycle continues to reveal that in most respects the conductor has finally learned how to perform this music, at least when compared to his first run-through. This Seventh sounds pretty terrific in its first, third, and fourth movements, partly a result of judiciously chosen tempos and largely due to the superior playing of the Stuttgart orchestra (especially when measured against the bloodless and desiccated London Classical Players). The one single fly in this particular ointment lies in the ludicrously fast tempo for the famous Allegretto, which at a record-breaking 6:39 sounds simply stupid (even Norrington’s first attempt was noticeably slower). Most performances, even by zippy period-style interpreters average around eight minutes, and this version amply demonstrates exactly why.
The Eighth Symphony also has its eccentricities, including some strangely lumpy phrasing in the first movement and a finale that begins at an unsustainably fleet tempo but generates plenty of excitement nonetheless. The perky inner movements come off best, as here Norrington isn’t so concerned with forcing the music to sound “interesting” beyond its modest aims. Once again the intensity and commitment of the playing speaks volumes regarding Norrington’s growing stature as an interpreter, not to mention the quality of the fine orchestra he has at his disposal. Excellent sonics round out a disc not quite as superb as his recent Ninth Symphony, but nevertheless a vast improvement over Norrington’s first thoughts on this music.