This is Beethoven played swiftly in the modern manner although only in Symphony 8 are speeds close to the fast metronome markings in which the rapid requirements make good sense. Each tempo is convincing within the context of the interpretations yet there are times when Philippe Jordan gives the impression of haste and the opening Allegro ma non troppo of the ‘Pastoral’ Symphony is a case in point. Although taking nearly a minute longer than the metronome marking indicates, Jordan still gives the impression of a speedy walk through the countryside yet there are many expressive ideas including momentary hushes followed by lively crescendos. In the scene depicting the brightly flowing brook, Jordan enhances idyllic feelings which are charmingly evoked with colourful woodwind solos. The following peasant dance is a little unstable, making the already rapid speed seem even faster yet the faster-still Trio works well and even the breathless rush into the lively storm makes good sense; here is much drama and haste is not a feature when it comes to the expansive Finale – here Jordan is a minute slower than Furtwängler and admirably steady in pulse.
Symphony 8 is given an eager performance. None of the minor tempo adjustments disturbs and to press forward suits the music very well, but although the basic tempo of the opening movement is fine, some phrases are thrown off casually and again an impression of hurry is given. Credit must be given for the clarity of the lower strings at the recapitulation – a rare recorded achievement. Throughout, the presence of woodwinds is notable and in the delightful Allegretto scherzando they somewhat overpower but perhaps it is all in the cause of underlining Beethoven’s joke aimed at Maelzel’s metronome. This is a puzzling theory since No.8 was composed in 1812 whereas Maelzel’s invention was not described as “new” until 1816. The Minuet is sturdy with swinging rhythm but although, in the booklet, I appreciate Jordan’s reference to the importance of the cello solo in the Trio, the recording gives it very little presence. After starting the Finale gently, Jordan grasps the music at the first tutti and pushes on, there are other accelerations, all to exciting effect.
This is an ideal presentation of a public performance: no audience noise and no applause. There is some imprecision and none that matters. The recorded sound is impressive yet there is the occasional moment of inconsistency with timpani barely audible when playing quietly and there are some toned-down forte rolls but by contrast there is clarity and power in the many loud strokes. Trumpets are less prominent than usual but this seems part of Jordan’s overall conception and suits the VSO’s warm timbre.