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Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Antal Dorati

Beethoven: 9 Symphonies (5CD Boxset)

As with fellow Hungarians-in-exile Fritz Reiner, George Szell and Georg Solti, Antal Doráti (1906–1988), one of the mid-twentieth century’s most able conductors, made Beethoven a central repertoire choice. Regarding the symphonies, Doráti’s commercial recordings were roughly divided between three orchestras: the Minneapolis Symphony (of which he was the principal conductor between 1949 and 1960), the London Symphony (with which he was closely associated during the decade 1955–1965) and the Royal Philharmonic (where his principal conductorship lasted from 1975 to 1978).

So how does this cycle stack up against more familiar alternatives from roughly the same era, under Bernstein, Blomstedt, Haitink, Karajan, Klemperer, Kubelík, Leinsdorf, Masur, Monteux, Ormandy, Kurt Sanderling, Schmidt-Isserstedt, Szell and many others? Doráti’s approach to Beethoven was, in a phrase, no-nonsense. Though the bracing directness that was such a powerful feature of the LSO and MSO Mercury recordings had by the 1970s mellowed somewhat, with more rounded edges, even in the later RPO recordings the characteristic dancing quality often remained, as did a tendency to stress sforzandi and occasionally to favour clipped, staccato-style string playing. In essence, on these RPO recordings the underlying truthfulness is surely the set’s strongest virtue.

BEETHOVEN: Symphonies Nos. 1-9 ARTISTS Carole Farley, soprano Alfreda Hodgson, alto Stuart Burrows, tenor Norman Bailey, bass Brighton Festival Chorus Lászlo Heltay, chorus master Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Antal Doráti