set apart from his fellow historically-minded conductors by his willingness to get far beyond the basics of original tempo and texture, to instill a sense of discovery in his players. And the ORR routinely demonstrates an admirable level of technical polish (folks who still think period instrument groups can't play in tune have never heard the ORR).
One of my favorite concert experiences was a Beethoven 9 Gardiner and the ORR gave at Lincoln Center in the 1990s. I knew it would be quicker than my old faves; I smugly assumed it would feel less poetic and touching as well. Instead, I was riveted, rewarded, rejuvenated.
Sure, if you make me play the desert-island-recording game, I'd still choose some crackly old Furtwangler/Beethoven gem, but I'd keep Gardiner's interpretations tucked away in the memory banks, too.
I find the British conductor's latest account of the Fifth satisfying from the get-go, as when he takes a slight diminuendo on the D that concludes the fate-knocking motive, thus enabling the strings' next lines to emerge cleanly (too often, from modern orchestras, we get no such separation, so everything runs together -- the Baltimore Symphony's performance earlier this season with Marin Alsop was a case in point).
Many versions of the Fifth performed these days are fast. This one is, too, but with an extra degree of tautness and enough variations in speed to keep things interesting, often startling. Same goes for the Seventh. And in the slow(er) movements of both works, Gardiner never sounds hurried; he leaves lots of room for the beautifully expressive turns of phrase.
Throughout, his players deliver the goods, with terrific cohesiveness and abundant nuances of tone, clearly relishing the richness of ideas packed into each of these enduring, eventful symphonies.