Beethoven 6 from Oliver Zeffman and Academy of St Martin in the Fields


I am enjoying listening to Oliver Zeffman and Academy of St Martin in the Fields live recording of Beethoven 6. Recorded last year at the British Library, the Apple Classical release forms part of collection of museum-based performances that tickle the eardrums.

The opening movement isn’t perfect but it is real. There are slight splashes in the upper strings at the ends of some phrases, but far from this being problematic this establishes a compelling hint of jeopardy. I adore the chuntering cellos and the way the upper strings shift from one long line to a shimmering curtain sound, as though the ensemble is turning through different the different colours in a kaleidoscope.

The second movement is where I’m particularly drawn in on the detail. That’s partly to do with the mix – a sympathetic shift from ambience to detail, highlighting what a master orchestrator Beethoven was. The woodwind shine like a bright spring day throughout. There is too a palpable line being drawn throughout this movement framing a graceful sense of constant movement.

Listen out for the folk dance melody tossed between oboe, clarinet (and eventually horn) after the opening dance in the third movement, all of it full of joyous bounce. Underneath this a deliciously simple bassoon line that alternates tidily between a three-note and four-note pattern before it being passed onto the cellos and basses. I’ve listened out for this sequence time and time again over the past few days. It is a phenomenally satisfying listen.

The storm that follows the third movement has all the drama I found lacking in the endless recordings I was subjected to during my degree studies thirty years ago. Plenty of terrifying claps of thunder from the timpani, and relentless downpours, from the strings. When the storm passes Zeffman and the band triumph in evoking that delectable sense of prowess felt having weathered a thunderstorm with insufficient cover matched only by the smugness experienced completing the school cross-country run whilst your peers flail around on the muddy pitch chasing a rugby ball.

Zeffman’s Philharmonia gig recorded at the Cutty Sark Greenwich last year is out on Apple Classical on 14 April 2023.