Recorded in 2021 and last year with a judicious balance of clarity and warmth, the well-established partnership of Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and Zubin Mehta (he was chief conductor between 1985 and 2017 and remains a regular returnee) give performances based on well-plotted tempos (reminding of Karl Böhm) that aid articulation, rhythmic poise, details and interactions (violins are antiphonal) – so refreshing and ear-opening when set against the trend of playing this music as fast as possible when it can be predominantly about pressured playing, and of no more than getting the notes in the right place.

Mehta gives his musicians time, and their response is devoted and characterful (delightful woodwinds), Mehta’s baton and gestures focussed on, rehearsal requests, especially regarding dynamics and shapely phrasing, significantly in place as well as natural and coming across as spontaneous. Such things as the (left-positioned) double bass ‘heartbeats’ during the Adagio of Symphony 4 really caught my attention, as did numerous ‘new’ features revealed to be present in the other works – and if proof is needed as to why the violins need to be either side of the conductor throughout ‘The Nine’, try at 3:39 in the Finale of the ‘Eroica’, which otherwise sports a majestic opening movement followed by a ‘Funeral March’ of gravitas and intensity, yet the Symphony’s ultimate coda is rather muted, horns recessed (Szell/Cleveland remains the yardstick). A few other misgivings include the fussy conclusion to No.8’s first movement (when nothing needs to be done; try Gielen, Monteux or Ormandy) and also the somewhat earthbound finish to the corresponding movement of No.2 (where Celibidache/Munich and Kubelík/Concertgebouw, say, really take off). Repeats are mostly observed, save for the first movements of the ‘Eroica’ and the Seventh (fine with me), although I regret the lack of repetition in the Finale of the Fifth (Mehta opts for Klemperer-like grandeur anyway, or dogged, depending on opinion) and in the Ninth’s Scherzo.

Throughout, however, there is so much that is absorbing at Mehta’s musical pacing, not least a glorious ‘Pastoral’, leisurely, never slack, although the ‘Choral’ doesn’t raise the roof enough (uneven singing) despite numerous felicities along the way, of which the slow movement is an extended example. Applause from an otherwise quietly attentive audience is retained for Mehta’s first complete recorded Beethoven Symphony cycle (only 3, 7 & 9 prior, from either New York or LA) – on Dynamic CDS7950 (5 CDs), also available on DVD and Blu-ray (distributed in the UK by Naxos). I’m not going to tag this release as Outstanding – although, for me, it often is.

Mandy Fredrich (soprano)
Marie-Claude Chappuis (mezzo-soprano)
AJ Glueckert (tenor)
Tareq Nazmi (bass)
Orchestra e Coro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

https://naxosdirect.co.uk/labels/dynamic-records-5796