Beethoven: Symphony No 5 - Les Siècles. © 2020 harmonia mundi musique sas

CD Spotlight

Immense Joy

GERALD FENECH listens to Beethoven and Gossec symphonies

'A first-rate project deserving of the most serious of investigations.'


The programme on this disc presents more than one temptation; if not anything, a new Beethoven Fifth always stirs a certain amount of curiosity. The problem is the discography, with its rich philosophical and artistic styles and options so different, that a new version always has an uphill battle to stamp its individuality among this vast choice. François-Xavier Roth is indeed an expert in the pivotal period between Enlightenment and Romanticism, and his choice to present an undiluted and original sound reflecting this era comes up trumps. Conducting a superb band of players with period instruments, he delivers a highly exciting version for those who favour authenticity, and this Fifth is undoubtedly not lacking in its ebullience and dramaticity, which are the essential ingredients of Beethoven's music.

Listen — Beethoven: Allegro con brio (Symphony No 5 in C minor)
(track 1, 0:00-0:42) © 2020 harmonia mundi musique sas :

This is a reading of a very high level which will certainly be a good acquisition for the amateur who wants to explore the music of this revolutionary and romantic period. I would have preferred a more expansive sound, but technically I have no qualms at all as to the final result.

Listen — Beethoven: Allegro (Symphony No 5 in C minor)
(track 3, 0:01-0:47) © 2020 harmonia mundi musique sas :

The true revelation of this issue is Gossec's seventeen-part symphony, a contemporary piece to Beethoven's Op 67, except that Gossec, who experienced the Revolution and all the turmoil that went with it, was seventy-five years old when he composed it. François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829) composed most of his symphonies before 1770, the year of Beethoven's birth, in a style reminiscent of the Mannheim school and adapted to the French taste, thus reviving the genre but adopting the grand tone of the period. One should keep in mind that this French master wrote for the great vocal masses of the Revolution and the Empire, with plenty of woodwinds, and in so doing he narrated those glorious days with eloquence and splendor. The first movement opens with a solemn 'tutti' of the brass section that precedes a highly innovative Allegro molto.

Listen — Gossec: Allegro molto (Symphonie à dix-sept parties)
(track 5, 1:12-2:11) © 2020 harmonia mundi musique sas :

In the Larghetto you can enjoy an exquisite melody tinged with a melancholy strand.

Listen — Gossec: Larghetto (Symphonie à dix-sept parties)
(track 6, 4:56-5:47) © 2020 harmonia mundi musique sas :

The Menuet, which is full of life, includes a jewel of a trio that Roth carves out with immense joy. The final Allegro molto is an immense tour de force considered as one of the most successful symphonic pages of this era and takes you into an orchestral hurricane that sweeps you off your feet.

The two works compliment each other perfectly and, although many beauties abound in both, they do not share the same ambitions. Beethoven's are philosophical and dramatic, Gossec's are steeped in jubilation. A first-rate project deserving of the most serious of investigations.

Copyright © 7 November 2020 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta








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