Beethoven: Symphonies – No 1 in C major, Op 21; No 4 in B flat major, Op 60

Reviewed on Thu 09 Feb, 2017

Commendably Masur observes the composer’s metronome markings – the speeds of the beats – but ignores the importance of flexibility within those speeds, what Beethoven also meant by “a tempo of feeling”.

Published five years after Haydn’s last symphony in 1795, Beethoven’s First portends a new era for the form. Kurt Masur’s response to the change is objective. Commendably he observes the composer’s metronome markings – the speeds of the beats – but ignores the importance of flexibility within those speeds, what Beethoven also meant by “a tempo of feeling”. Masur is stiffly detached and brings virtually nothing of personal value to the whole work. Reach the Fourth Symphony, and his cerebral detachment is more unsettling, particularly so in the slow movement. Berlioz’s belief – “One is seized from the first bars with an emotion that by the end becomes shattering in its intensity” – isn’t proven in this emotionally disengaged performance (like the First, it was captured live at London's Royal Festival Hall during November 2004). Masur, literal and averse to fervour, doesn’t conduct with the subtleties of expression implicit in the musical phrasing. Individual insights from Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Sony) and Frans Brüggen (Glossa) tell a different story.
–Nalen Anthoni