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Nikolaus Harnoncourt – one of the most influential musical personalities of recent decades – has recently announced his retirement and this stunning new recording of Beethoven will be his last. It is however the first time he has conducted these two famous symphonies with the period instrument ensemble Concentus Musicus Vienna, which he founded in 1953 – so in a sense it feels like his definitive, last word on the subject.
Harnoncourt has reportedly always wanted to record these works on historical instruments to demonstrate Beethoven's radical approach as it would have been heard in its day. The conductor also believes, for example, that the Symphony No.5 has been completely misunderstood and is in fact a political statement, having nothing to do with destiny but rather telling the story of 'the revolt of the masses'. He certainly marshals the Concentus Musicus of Vienna into producing a sound that is stirring and triumphant.
This is a live-recording from two sold-out concerts at the Musikverein Vienna and the hall's highly regarded acoustics contribute to the freshness and immediacy of the sound here.