Released to mark Seiji Ozawa’s eighty-fifth-birthday (on September 1), these two Beethoven performances, superbly recorded by Jonathan Stokes in 2016 and the following year, have about them a wonderful musicality, a labour of love for the conductor and a devoted response from the Saito Kinen Orchestra.
There may be more dramatic and suspenseful accounts of Leonore No.3 (in fact No.2, whereas No.2 is No.1, and No.1 is No.3 – all Leonore/Fidelio-related anyway), nevertheless it’s a fine listen, full of good intentions.
Similarly, Symphony 7 refreshes the parts … music-making that knows where it is going (no spurious rits), and if tempos tend to lean to moderation then much articulacy and clarity (woodwinds especially) is the reward; nor is there anything superficial or contemptuous from these performers about journeying such a well-trodden work. Rather there is joy, consideration too, strength and sensitivity apparent, the latter quality most-evident in the second-movement Allegretto – solemn, serious – offset by a gambolling Scherzo and Ozawa doesn’t make a meal of the Trio. The Finale is tenacious and dynamically voluminous rather than merely fast, drawing audience cheers.
Ozawa isn’t a slave to observing repeats, he takes the one in the first movement but not the Finale – I wish it were the other way round – but, no matter, I’ll be listening again soon. Decca 485 0027.