This just-released combination of Beethoven’s Fourth and Seventh Symphonies, presented by the Beethoven Orchester Bonn under Stefan Blunier, arrives with muscular assuredness. They seem to celebrate all that is earnest and serious in their patron composer. Utter precision is called for in these works, from the pizzicatti that punctuate the chords at the bleak opening of the Fourth, to the hell-bent careering Scherzo of the Seventh. There is a pure and raw quality to these renderings, allowing for delicacy but more concerned with something like honesty. Just hearing the hair of the bow grab the string at the opening of the Adagio of the Fourth scratches the itch just so. The reproduction is limpid, the playing excellent. I have to believe Beethoven would nod approval.
These pieces frame or bookmark what’s known as Beethoven’s “middle period.” The Seventh is a monumental symphony, one he followed with a quasi-chamber work in the Eighth. The Fourth, like the Eighth, seems a lighter response to the massive Eroica. The Seventh Symphony is so well-known and well-loved, it’d be churlish to critique in this performance the exact problem so many other ensembles fail to resolve: the hop-skip rhythm that emerges as the overriding motif in the first movement. As time and the increase in volume generate fatigue, the dance grows heavy. I’m not the only one who calls that rhythm the hardest to play correctly; a catalogue of performances that get it right consistently is needed.