Something wrong with latest Beethoven 5th?

Something wrong with latest Beethoven 5th?


norman lebrecht

July 29, 2020

Sony Classical released the Teodor Currentzis version of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on April 3, but only online.

In the thick of Covid lockdown, it received limited attention. No date has yet been given for releasing the physical product. Could Sony be having second thoughts?

The tempi are suicidal and the fermata so abrupt they might have been guillotined.

You can experience samples of the symphony below or listen to the whole work on Idagio here.

Admirers of Currentzis at his most provocative, impulsive and downright f-u are already comparing him to Furtwängler. Myself, I find the Andante aesthetically offensive and the rest mostly annoying.

I see there was a grumpy Gramophone review.

See what you think.




  • Tamino says:

    The comparison to Furtwängler is totally absurd.
    Currentzis is a smallish rapist of music.
    Furtwängler made love with music.
    They are not nearly in the same league.

    • Tamino says:

      Also I can’t listen to that sound for more than a minute. It’s interesting from an advertisement aesthetics perspective. Grabs your attention for seconds. But then it quickly gets tiring for ear and brain (and soul).
      Also it’s lower than 440 Hz for an a’, but also higher than 415? So about a quarter tone in-between. Why?

    • Peter says:

      Now, that’s a great insult. I’ll remember that.

    • Luca says:

      Furt used to have a couple of escorts delivered to his dressing room during the interval. Perhaps Currentzis didn’t have such a humanizer.

    • Tom Tulen, flutist says:

      see my comment below

    • jay says:

      Back in the graveyard once more with Furtwangler;
      doesn’t anyone here get tired of this constant
      comparison digging up bones of dead conductors
      just to compare a one time performance against
      another one time performance which means
      absolutely nothing in the scheme of life.The land
      of the living dead…………….

    • Gordon says:

      I think the nature of this comment says more about the author than it does about Currentzis or Furtwangler

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Every age has the Furtwängler (or the Toscanini, or the Kleiber) it deserves.

  • JB says:

    Personally I feel the same about Klemperer’s murderous slow tempi.

    • Vaquero357 says:

      Murderously slow toward the end of his life. Pre-1955, his tempos were murderously fast…. so the sum of his career averages out at fairly ordinary tempos {;-)

  • Jakob says:

    I saw it as a physical CD the other day in Berlin.

  • Brian says:

    My regular CD merchant says the physical article is in stock. It could be here in 2 days’ time.

    Not that I’m going to try this out by ordering the CD, but I find it hard to believe it’s available “only online”, as NL suggests.

  • microview says:

    Subscribers only to see Gramophone review, it seems. Although for me, after that appalling Tchaik.6 (which Gramophone liked, if I remember correctly) Mr C is simply anathema to me! OK, so his Stravinsky Les noces was not bad….

  • Gregor Tassie says:

    Currentzis is a charlatan, and will be sooner or later found out for what he is, a creation of a major record company and who has been glorified by certain media outlets. It would seem that he had brought quite a few new people to classical music, but I am afraid these are people just interested in a new sensation. Of course the fact that he does dope and has a hedonist lifestyle seems to keep him in the spotlight.

  • Peter Macklin says:

    Not sure that what you say about the issue of the Cd is correct. It’s on Amazon UK and available for next day delivery.

    From the samples I quite like the performance – I’ve gone off the slow and steady Beethoven of the 1960s and 70s which to me now feels a bit dull.

  • Paavo says:

    The physical product (CD) has been released three months ago.

  • Konsgaard says:

    I’ve never heard/read anyone comparing him to Furtwangler (after all their style is almost antithetical), but some have compared him to a young Karajan and, then again, this is the norm with young conductors, Dudamel was also labelled like this, etc. Of course, this means nothing. We, classical music connoisseurs know when there is some truth in these characterisations and, in my case, I would describe Currentzis as a young Mitropoulos, mainly for the way he shapes the long phrases in Mahler and the colours he brings out. His Shostakovich is also pretty remarkable. And he seems to excel in late-Romantic repertoire.

    His live Beethoven received standing ovations in London and was sold-out.

    This release (which is also available on CD) has received some really positive and some rave reviews and also got a lot of attention from both the press and online forums:

    LA Times:


    A 4/5 star review in The Times calling it “something special”

    The BBC Music Magazine singles it out as an Orchestral Monthly Choice.

    Sure, there have also been some average reviews. There has been some justification as to why this is a single CD release with no fillers which makes sense (and why not — after all, one can always buy the digital download if they think paying for a symphony only CD is too much.) The 7th will be released in Autumn.

    • KH says:

      One should ignore whatever Mark Swed has to say. He manages the remarkable feat of dutifully producing nauseating marketing copies for LA Phil and underselling the orchestra at the same time. He didn’t even bother to review Nathalie Stutzmann’s debut with the orchestra in January, because of course an all-Beethoven concert that includes the fifth symphony is not hip enough and beneath him. Anyway you can still listen to the concert; the fifth is far superior to (and faster than) the Currentzis recording that he fawned over:

      • X.Y. says:

        Very interesting comparision between LA-Phil and MusicAeterna: On one side the familiar territory of the well upholstered pompous Beethoven we always knew, without any surprise, urgency or menace. Of course quite comfortable and reassuring.

        Enters Currentzis commando unit and everything explodes, sharp, unnerving, disconcerting, revolutionary, giving an impression that one has never before really heard or understood this piece.

        And whoever pretends that Currentzis is a charlatan should know that he is a tireless and obsessed worker who will not hesitate to invest hours and days even in a few bars, until he hears what he has in his imagination – articulation, phrasing, dynamics, sound, big line. Whatever one may say against him he remains a perfectionist craftsman.

        • KH says:

          Without any surprise, urgency, or menace? Aren’t you describing the Currentzis recording? What you get sounds like a midi file, played by a computer, with artificial distortions added in here and there. There is no surprise, only irritation, in a “oh look, here comes a totally gimmicky crescendo-diminuendo” sort of way.

          “he is a tireless and obsessed worker who will not hesitate to invest hours and days even in a few bars, until he hears what he has in his imagination – articulation, phrasing, dynamics, sound, big line”. Unfortunately that’s not what I heard at all. He made some exaggerated gestures here and there, true. But when he is not making those gestures just because he can, the playing is anonymous. The care for the varied types of articulations across all instrument groups at all times especially pales in comparison with the recording I posted.

    • pjl says:

      brilliant insight to link him to Mitropolous!

    • pjl says:

      brilliant comparison to Mitropoulos!!

    • Doofus1714 says:

      “we connoisseurs”…my goodness.

  • Patrick says:

    Great playing. Convincing. Not my favorite, but better than much already out there. He makes a good case. The guy is the real deal. Give him time. Besides, it’s nice to have a Beethoven 5th worth listening to at least once.

  • Dragonetti says:

    I suppose I’m only a thick, uncultured bassist but I rather enjoyed the tempi and sense of urgency. Sounded like a fun gig to me!

  • Edoardo Saccenti says:

    Just good for épater les bourgeois…

  • Harold says:

    The sleeve notes are narcissism non pareil comparable to Kanye West. The performance is pointless and contrived to assert his ego. The reference to Furtwangler is more marketing vanity.

  • Leo Doherty says:

    The whole recording comes across as being rushed. Quite difficult to listen to.

  • Rob says:

    Beethoven is in the audience and he’s just heard Furtwangler and then Carlos Klieber play his Symphony no 5, he asked himself, who are these boring bastards! Along comes Currentzis and Beethoven says, this is more like it! I was in this mood when I wrote it, this is similar to how Mahler did it.

  • Julien says:

    For people who are interested in Beethoven on period instruments (and 5th symphony), you can watch two videos of Gardiner with Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique:

  • fflambeau says:

    Who cares? Every record company and every major new music director thinks he “must” record Beethoven, maybe not just the 5th, but all Beethoven symphonies.

    This is a major blunder and hurts classical music and other composers. What, after all, can these people do that other greats before them have not done? Nix.

  • Max says:

    Surely not a huge fan of Currentzis but the excerpts sound great. Following Beethoven’s Tempo in the first movement is always a good idea and quite frankly that second movement sounds close to what I would imagine it to sound like on gut strings at the time.
    Not much offensive about it…just some performance practice elements, that Mr. Leberecht might be too uninformed to follow.
    The comparison Furtwängler Currentzis is rather boring since they have such different aesthetics and seems to be made up by people who have too much time on their hands, so they swagger about this unimportant bs, instead of thinking about music. Imho, of course…

  • James Coco says:

    It has been available as a CD from Presto Classical since June.

  • Stephen Maddock says:

    Thanks for highlighting Norman – I just listened and rather enjoyed it.

    Yes it’s fast but no more so than e.g. Norrington, Gardiner and Mackerras were going 30 years ago. If anything the finale (until the coda) is relatively slow compared with some versions. Plenty of contrabassoon in the balance too.

    I don’t like every detail – but surely this symphony of all symphonies should provoke a strong reaction in the listener? Beethoven should never feel too safe or too familiar!

    • Guus Mostart says:

      It is a stunning recording by a remarkably sensitive musician. Compared to Harnoncourt there is real passion and dramatic pulse rather than being relentlessly driven.

  • Tom Tulen, flutist says:

    I agree with you completely. Currentzis is more than over-rated, he distributes clever ideas rather than tell a coherent and loving story.

  • Michael Smith says:

    The physical CD of this recording is being offered by Amazon UK for next day delivery.

  • Doug says:

    Unlike so much of what the HIP crowd produces, I believe Currentzis actually has some rationale for his decisions. It’s not just “let’s try that ‘because we can!'” The result is something that makes musical sense and is bursting with youthful exuberance and life. Don’t forget, Beethoven was once a young man too.

  • opilec says:

    The ‘physical product’ has actually been out for several weeks now.

  • Homeward says:

    Maybe Sony is waiting to pair it with the next entry in the cycle. I can’t imagine many people wanting to pay full freight for the 5th by itself, regardless of whether they like this interpretation. (Personally, I’m glad to have heard it once, and don’t think I’ll ever come back to it.)

  • Don says:

    I find it refreshingly different from many of the traditional interpretations. The rhythms are very clean and energetic which brings out the beauty of the lines very well. I think it fits the energy of our times quite well and might appeal to a newer audience.

  • John Borstlap says:


    Normal must be right. Judging the snippets, it is the conventional modernist approach of HIP: very fast tempi, clear but very hard and sharp sound, no phrasing or breathing, no chubbiness, etc. etc. – all resulting from the idea that 18C and early 19C people always were in a hurry and loved axe chopping, and were only interested in the sound of the music and not in its psychological/emotional dimension (all available evidence shows the opposite is true). I know of only one conductor who combines HIP with true musicality and expresiveness: John Eliot Gardiner, who combines clarity and lightness with phrasing, warmth and breathing the flow of the music.

    Such fanatic HIP style reduces the music to its sound, and is therefore entirely inappropriate.

    Much too fast tempi in Beethoven symphonies are often defended by the metronome numbers in the original scores. But they are unreliable: B was deaf and may have lost the live experience of sound and acoustics, and imagined his music more feverishly than is good for the music; or – quite possible! – he misread the metronome, and instead of reading the cipher at the top side of the little block, reading the cipher at its bottom which would greatly increase the tempo. The differences in speed resulting from such misreading seem to reflect quite closely the differences in tempo when you compare the two different types of performance. B was highly unreliable in practical matters and such mistakes are thus quite probable.

    From the biographical material:

    His piano was blackened almost everywhere with ink of the inkpot falling into the instrument or leaking over the keyboard; (light 18C) furniture was either broken or damaged by rough use; pens were broken; cutlery damaged; clothing ripped; his cheeks cut from attempts at shaving; spitting into a mirror thinking it were an open window; etc. etc. Who would rely on such person to entirely correctly use an entirely new invention to establish the musical tempi?

    And then, as for tempi in general: they are so dependent upon acoustics, players, instrument types, atmospheric conditions, moment of the day (in the moring players feel music slower than in the evening), climate temperature, etc. And for composers it is quite normal to be entirely sure of a certain metronome number on one day and find another number on the next day, forcing them to add ‘ca.’ to any indication. At the time the metronome was new, and there had not as yet been extensive experience with it. We know form Wagner that he first metronomed his music precisely and then gave it up because of these reasons. Tempo is relative and the right tempo is impossible to establish once and for all – therefore Wagner only gave very general indications as to tempo (the same with Brahms). And he was a brilliant conductor who often conducted Beethoven’s symphonies.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      I like your general comments, but I find Gardiner, in Beethoven, to be the very “axe-chopper” you deplore. Norrington is much more gracious and musical — to my ears, at any rate.

      De gustibus, etc. …

  • Cubs Fan says:

    For the past two generations performances have become routine, dull, faceless – they all sound essentially the same. And critics complained about it. Now, along comes someone with something to say, something that’s different, and even then critics complain. This takes risks, is certainly exciting and doesn’t sound slap-dash at all. In fact, given the tempos it’s very exciting. Maybe if Sony buried the sound in artificial hissing and cracking then label it a long-lost 78 found in the vaults some people would claim it to be a great, stupendous find. After listening to his Mahler 6th and Tchaikovsky 6th, and now this, I look forward to more. He may be the new Stokowski!

    • henrirenquist says:

      you obviously don’t know the music, don’t have ears, or both (sorry to say it, but if these things were not true you wouldn’t write such ill-informed comments)

  • simon says:

    I’ve heard it all now (unfortunately), this Currentzis delivers absolute cr@p bar after bar…. I remember when the London critics called Franz “Worst that most” (I was not one of them), this guy is worse than all. How dare they defile the memory and repuatation of Furtwangler, et al, through any association. Never want to hear another note from this charlatan

  • Monsoon says:

    Based on the samples, the up close, bright recorded sound does not do his approach any favors.

    Gardiner is equally as hard driven and relentless, but having heard him conduct the 5th at Carnegie Hall twice, its acoustics helps take the edge off and fill in the sound. His performance back in Feb was magnetic.

  • Steven says:

    A great many of the negative comments here appear to have an extra-musical basis. There is, of course, no accounting for taste (especially for bad taste, I always like to add), but there is nothing about this recording to justify the over-the-top criticisms of it found in this thread. (I liked it myself.) And oh yes, IDAGIO’s inability to stream gaplessly is particularly painful in the transition from third to last movement in this recording.

    • Konsgaard says:

      As I have said above, the CD has received some rave reviews in the press! The negative criticism will always exist from people who are against HIP.

    • Couperin says:

      Agreed. I unsubscribed IDAGIO due to gapless playback. Have fun listening to St. Matthew Passion or any opera/oratorio split into 50 tracks. I wrote to them asking about it and they claimed it was
      an Android issue. Thankfully Apple Music doesn’t have an “Android issue” on my Android phone. And they have basically the same selection except for some radio/live/festival stuff.

      • Fan says:

        And the exclusive “classical music” self-designation only, much like those who call themselves “true religion”, is self-defeating.

  • Wurtfangler says:

    He is a charlatan sans pareil. All those saying ‘but it’s exciting . . . .’ honestly? How depressing your enjoyment has to be reduced to that.

    It’s like being driven through the most stunning countryside at 250mph in a F1car. The driver wants you to be impressed with how fast he is driving, the amazing machine he is driving, but you see absolutely nothing of the sheer beauty outside the window. It is all about who is in charge of the journey, not the landscape you are driving through.

    No sensitivity. No humility. No humanity.

  • david moran says:

    sounds quite fine to me, highly spirited and in the right spirit

    but how odd that even such a driver cannot get the opening as the breathless ‘and-2-and-ONE’, as written

  • Jonathan Lautman says:

    I have never before heard of Currentzis. The Andante would do perfectly well as a tempo for the Allegretto of the Eighth.

  • PHF says:

    I like very much his Verdi Requiem. BUT hated this, bizarre articulation in several places (opening of the 4th mov. for example), weird tempi, awkward dynamics and phrasing… urgh… excuse me, must listen to a good version now to take this of my head.

  • kuma says:

    Nice cover design. I’ll purchase it if it was released in vinyl. 🙂

  • stickles says:

    I have never really paid any attention to TC’s work. Now I just listened to the excerpts and I can understand why there are such negative opinions from some listeners. Usually fermata at end of each of the 4 note motifs are done in the same way, not here. Here TC cuts off the first fermata, but allows the second one to finish naturally. Fate was somehow interrupted during the first knock, and had to come back the second time to finish the job! At the third fermata, he put an exaggerated accent on the second half of the note, and then completely ignores the following fermata on the rest, as if asking everyone to take deep breath while swaying into the return of the opening motif. None of this makes any musical or dramatic sense and is contrary to what Beethoven had in mind. From these 15 seconds I can only deduce this is an over-interpreted performance and that TC is doing these little things to show off his “genius”. However, there are still some things I admire. Very nice to hear the tension provided by the horns and the oboes in bars 34 and 36 (usually these two notes are buried, especially the oboes) and I really appreciate the presence of the contrabassoon in the finale. In conclusion I find TC to have an exception ear for orchestral balance, but he is prone to perverse musical ideas. He is a worthy successor to Lang Lang.

    • Maestro says:

      Stickles obviously doesn’t know the score for the first 5 measures of the 5th. Look it up and you will see you are not even close to being credible.

  • Gerard says:

    this video by one of the most funny and intelligent critics David Hurwitz says it all:

  • Edward says:

    Sony will release Currentzis’ Beethoven No. 7 in Sep. Yes, again it is the only piece on that CD.

  • iStrings says:

    Reminds me of some Japanese conductors (as leader of one of the orchestras there for many years) who didn’t care if the tempo was unplayable fast, especially at the end of the fourth movement. Honestly, to be part of it was some times even kind of fun except that my right arm did really hurt after.

  • Clevelander says:

    I find Currentzis as a person and a figure incredibly repulsive and narcissistic. Can’t stand the man’s constant self-stroking and online presence.

    However, I found this recording very good. The contrabassoon and piccolo really jump out in the finale and some of the hypermetrical things he does in the second and third movement are at least fun, if a little unnecessary.

  • Jerome Hoberman says:

    Nothing intrinsically objectionable or remote from current norms in the tempi but, at least as heard through my laptop’s pitiful speakers, it seems that, except in the finale, line is sacrificed to harmonic progression. (In other words, there are balance problems.) Beethoven’s stylistic development went in the opposite direction.

  • Hubert says:

    Surely, Beethoven’s 5th was never intended to sound so aggressive and loud as throughout this recording?

  • Louise says:

    Remember when Beethoven started his composing carrier, he also got very mixed comments and reactions..

  • Jodelet says:

    You put Furtwängler and Karajan together, and what comes out of that is not worth the left hand of Currentzis.

  • Beetoven without an H says:

    No one seems to remember this faster and rather special performance given by BCSO and Mirga?

  • Liam Allan-Dalgleish says:

    Clinical. Classical music is dead. Never forget Beethoven’s words: an army marched on its eight notes.

  • Liam Allan-Dalgleish says:

    Marches for marched

  • Christopher Coleman says:

    I LOVE IT! How often do you hear Beethoven in a way you’ve never heard him before? It’s as close an experience as we can have to hearing the premiere. Okay, not historically accurate but why do we need yet another HA Beethoven ?

    • Stickles says:

      New and unique reinterprations to old classics will always be interesting and illuminating to some and aggrevating or even offensive to others. Much has been discussed on the tempi of this sysmphony. The metronome marking of 108 seems too fast for most people. We can ask the question why 4 notes, and not 3 or 5 notes? Is there a physical analogue to this 4 note pattern? Image one rolls the four knuckles his forefingers on a door, how fast would that be? As Beethoven decends deeper in to deafness, it is entirely possible for him use more analogs to physical gestures in his music. Of cause this is only suspicion on my part, but that could leave room for more new interpretations to his music, as long as it is still grounded to the original score.

  • David Boxwell says:

    This CD is bad, and at less than 35 minutes, there isn’t enough music on it.

  • Bruce says:

    Listened to the whole thing. It was OK.

    He’s definitely committed to that short/ sharp/ hard approach, and with the amount of reverb it works pretty well. There were a few dynamics and articulation decisions that seemed arbitrary, but while they weren’t revelatory they didn’t offend me much either.

    Rather than being a purist, I try to see if the performance hangs together well on its own terms. This one does, fairly well.

    I didn’t feel like I was in the presence of someone who was in command of — or possessed by — the music, but rather someone who is taking one of the standard approaches and tweaking a few things.

    The most jarring thing was Idagio’s insertion of commercials between movements 1 and 2, and between movements 3 and 4(!). I suppose that’s a function of the free account; not sure I’m sufficiently in love to pay for it. Oh well.

  • sorin braun says:

    except fo the first few minutes which are amazing , the rest seems like a cadenza , similar case to beethoven’s 8th.
    therefore it is not that crucial how the conductor proceeds as long as he achieves a good sound and control.
    all this hype about currentzis 5th is baloney.

  • Lover of music says:

    I’m a professional musician. I have studied this score extensively. Yet, I have always hated this symphony. Hearing it for the first time on period instruments made things a little better. But this recording is just from another world. Tempi are those written by Beethoven himself, how old are you all guys here? 70+?? Every musical decision can be justified by the score. The clarity, the details, the narrative….this recording opened my eyes to the genius of this symphony. Can’t wait for the rest of the cycle. Will be the new best. And all the above old hags worshipping Furtwangler are not in their youth anymore, so their outdated opinions won’t be relevant for much longer. I’ve never disagreed so hard with you Norman! Worse than your rants on Gergiev!

  • Nick2 says:

    On first hearing, I disliked this performance quite intensely. I always keep in mind Kleiber’s 1975 version with the. Vienna Phil which I consider the gold standard. But then after all the comments here and rereading all the turbulence in Beethoven’s life at this time (no, not the oncoming deafness – a composer can hear in his mind 99.9% of what he wants in the score), I found myself being more won over by Currentzis. Talking to a few friends in the music business I find that most also come to this view!

  • Harrumphrey says:

    The world needs another Beethoven 5th like it needs another Norman Lebrecht.

  • Gordon says:

    85 vitriolic comments by people accusing Currentzis of being a charlatan, which people have nonetheless never attended his rehearsals! It’s very simple – if you prefer your 70 year old, slow, laborious and uninspired recordings of Beethoven symphonies, by all means continue to enjoy them! What’s the point in criticising the newest and most progressive interpretation? When all you old fogeys who enjoy the recorded versions that have little or nothing to do with how Beethoven himself would have interpreted and performed his own works have toddled off this mortal coil, your critiques are hardly going to inform the next generation of listeners and performers. Get over yourselves and just enjoy what you enjoy and leave the people who have studied more about how music was played in Beethoven’s time and who believe that classical music can have more energy than a damp sock on a cold night to make classical music into something more than just an interlude between drinks!

  • Jon says:

    The andante “aesthetically offensive…” really? How? What nonsense. Plus the Gramaphone review is not really ‘grumpy’ , it just highlights plus and minus. If people do not like the way this Beethoven is played – then fine – but thank heavens it is better than the turgid stuff served up by later Karajan, Barenboim and Furtwangler (though the radio broadcasts are a different story), and so many others.