David Atherton made a fine reputation for himself as a contemporary music conductor back in his salad days with the London Sinfonietta, nowhere more so than in his three-disc (now two-CD) set of music by Kurt Weill. He certainly hasn’t lost his magic touch in the intervening years. These performances of the two symphonies sweep the (not very full) board. Swift, lean, incisive, and always exciting, Atherton reveals all of this music’s anger, irony, and bittersweet lyricism without a trace of histrionics or self-indulgence. Indeed, a certain coolness is part of the point too. And so in the marvelous Second Symphony, Atherton catches the neo-classical temper of its outer movements with impeccable wit and grace, making the passionate intensity of the magnificent central slow movement all the more shocking as a result.
It's increasingly common to hear the symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven played on original instruments and according to authentic period practices, which have become de rigueur for many contemporary conductors and orchestras. But Martin Haselböck and the Vienna Academy Orchestra go one step further by playing them in their original Viennese venues, thus creating something close to the sound and impact of the first performances.