Camerata – Gramophone Editor’s Choice

Posted on December 15, 2008

Gutsy, powerful, vivid – this Mancunian Beethoven is something quite special

Thirty years ago, “chamber orchestra” Beethoven was considered to be a mildly interesting eccentricity; nowadays it is practically de rigueur. The Chamber Orchestra of Europe blazed the trail. Douglas Boyd was its principal oboe for many years, though more recently his widely recognised drive and musical acumen have been put at the service of the long-established and nowadays upwardly mobile Manchester Camerata. This, I would guess, is one of their finest records.
The Camerata do not use period instruments (under Boyd they do not even use period layouts), nor is Boyd an interpretative absolutist. Harnoncourt and Abbado, his old bosses at the COE, have probably helped determine his approach, yet there is no sense that these are hand-me-down readings. The switch of roles has clearly refocused his interest in the music and rekindled it: an experience the orchestra evidently shares.

There is aggression in the performances, but it is an artistically contained aggression. The playing, with its gutsy, tensile strings and characterful lead woodwinds, has a powerfully communicative quality. Both readings are rhythmically strong, though I continue to be “thrown” by the delayed string entry at the start of the hushed return to the dominant in the second subject group of the first movement of the Seventh (bars 141-42). As this happens three times, twice in the exposition and again in the recapitulation, it is clearly no accident.

The recordings are superb. For once we have an in-house, orchestra-live product that actually works on record, with a sharply focused bespoke production (no applause) that vividly conveys the no-holds-barred immediacy of the music-making.

Richard Osborne

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