Although this Classic Albums series has its gaze primarily fixed on rock, jazz, and folk music, there are some extraordinarily powerful classic albums from the Classical canon that deserve greater attention. However, Carlos Kleiber’s legendary mid 1970s recordings of Beethoven’s Fifth and Seventh Symphonies, made with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, arguably stand at the pinnacle.
There’s nothing a writer in a hi-fi magazine can say about Beethoven’s symphonies that wouldn’t sound trite. Beethoven’s Fifth has unarguably the best known opening bars of any piece of music, ever. The four-movement symphony became a staple of the classical repertoire soon after its first public outing in 1808. It’s classical music for people who don’t ‘get’ classical music and was even called ‘The Victory Symphony’ after WWII, in part because the BBC’s broadcasts used by the British War Office to send messages to the resistence movement across Europe began with a variation on those opening bar played on tympani (‘dot, dot, dot, dash’ also happens to signify the letter ‘V’ in Morse Code).
If it were anyone other than Beethoven, the Seventh would be a pinnacle of a fine musical career. It’s the most rhythmic and spontaneous-sounding of his symphonies, and one of his personal favourites. It is not without its detractors, who think it somewhat haphazard by the standards of the mighty Third, Fifth, and Ninth. Nevertheless, it remains one of his most popular symphonies, especially for the progression in the second movement.