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Beethoven's "Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 (Pastoral)" was preceded by another similar work, "Le Portrait musical de la Nature ou Grande Symphonie," written in the early 1780s by Justin Heinrich Knecht, nearly 25 years before Beethoven's symphony. This was not the only musical work to imitate nature, of course, but it seems likely that Beethoven knew Knecht's piece and modeled the "Pastoral Symphony" on it. There is suggestive documentary evidence (Beethoven owned an organ-playing treatise by Knecht), but more important is the musical evidence. Each work has five movements, the titles have some similarities, both symphonies contain a thunderstorm, and the triadic themes that follow the storm's clearing in each work are close. Knecht puts his sun's rays in the middle of the fourth movement rather than at the beginning of the finale, where, in Beethoven, it has maximum impact. Given all of this, it's surprising that the Knecht work has very rarely been recorded, and Beethoven enthusiasts will want the album purely for this reason; it may be the first version to pair the Knecht with the Beethoven. Another unusual feature here is that the music is played by the Akademie für alte Musik Berlin without a conductor. This venerable group is a small ensemble, and though it is not the first to play the "Pastoral" this way, it's among the better ones, with a lively reading that balances sweet tunes with the prominent trombones characteristic of historical-instrument interpretations. In all, a distinctive and innovative Beethoven release.