Classical music: Music on CD

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Beethoven Symphonies

Nos 7 and 8

Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich /

David Zinman

Arte Nova/BMG 74321 56341 2. Recorded December 1997

Zinman in Zurich has turned Switzerland's oldest orchestra into a formidable body of players, trading one-time scrappiness and good intentions for leanness of tone and keenness of attack. Decca have a superb Honegger disc "in the can" but, in the meantime, Zinman and his team are completing easily the best budget-price Beethoven Symphony cycle. Chris Hazell is at the control desk (he also masterminded the Honegger sessions) and in terms of sound alone, Zinman's set competes with the finest. But it also has the advantage of using printed texts that, according to the musicologist Jonathan Del Mar, "have been compiled with scholarly rigour, in accordance with strict musicological techniques and processes". And you certainly hear the differences - an extended oboe cadenza 10'18" into the first movement; embellishments to the woodwind line 6'04" into the Allegretto, pizzicato strings at the end of the same movement, etc. All repeats are played in both symphonies; tempos reflect Beethoven's extremely fast markings and the closing pages of the Seventh Symphony generate disco- style momentum. Novelties apart, Zinman lights Beethoven's fire, with good, old-fashioned "modern" instruments. I say "hooray", though some may prefer the "authentic" sounds of Gardener or Bruggen - both of which carry a price tag three times higher than Zinman's. Take my advice: give this one a try.

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