Sir Simon’s new Berlin cycle on the orchestra’s home label combines the HIP with a roundly Romantic underbelly.

Symphonies Nos 1-9
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle
Berliner Philharmoniker BPHR160091 (5CD & 3Blu-ray)

Beethoven has a way of shining a mirror onto you. Just saying “Okay, this is where I am, this is where you are”. You just have to try and be as honest as you can in the moment. That’s all you can do – Sir Simon Rattle

BPO delivers rattling good Beethoven

Simon Rattle is on record as saying that Furtwängler’s 1942 recording of the Choral Symphony epitomises everything genuinely great about the Berlin Philharmonic. And here’s the great paradox of this fresh Beethoven cycle, recorded with the Berlin Philharmonic in October 2015 – a decade on from his first attempt with the Vienna Philharmonic, Rattle has managed to make the yin and yang of HIP and a Romantic underbelly coexist and these Berlin Philharmonic readings sound less obviously indebted to its own heritage.

Indeed, the first two symphonies here are noticeably hands-off interpretations where Rattle lets the music spill out of its own joie de vivre. The Fourth Symphony, too, is characterised by boundless energy; but the way Rattle artfully constructs waves of energy around the bassoon in the prologue to the first movement suggests a more intentioned approach.

Rattle’s Eroica, Fifth and Seventh Symphonies have evolved considerably since 2003 – now less micromanaged. The Eroica in particular, which launches at a tempo that would make even Riccardo Chailly think “wow, fast”, feels like Rattle’s lit a firework and is sculpting with fire. The Choral Symphony receives what could be described as a ‘sensible’ performance, but I don’t mean to damn with faint praise. Those supple harmonic shifts in the slow movement are masterfully shaped and the Finale pushes all the right muscular buttons. Philip Clark

The Runners Up

Piano Concerto No 1, Ballades
Paul Lewis p, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Harding
Harmonia Mundi HMC902191

Symphonies Nos 4 & 5
Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/John Storgårds
Dacapo 6220646

Shostakovich · Glazunov
Violin Concertos
Nicola Benedetti v, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Karabits
Decca 4788758

Symphonies Nos 3, 6 & 7
Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä