Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphonies - No. 2 in D, Op. 36; No. 4 in B flat, Op.
Opera Orchestra/Erich Kleiber (No. 2), Hans Pfitzner (No.
Erich Kleiber's 1929 Polydor/Brunswick account of the Second shows its age
not only in terms of its recording quality, but also in the conductor's free
handling of the text. The latter is not necessarily a bad thing, as too many
squeaky-clean 'authentic' performances have demonstrated over the last couple
of decades. The introduction to the first movement is surprisingly brisk
(and very effective), but the Allegro molto tends towards the sluggish.
Whilst the second movement is marked Larghetto (itself a cautionary
instruction against lethargy), it is also in 3/8 time, all of which surely
points to a brisker speed than Kleiber's. It speeds up as the movement
progresses, anyway. For those not used to this outlook, be warned that there's
a gear-crunching speed change at the Trio in the third movement. Ultimately
I cannot feel convinced by this performance.
Unfortunately the recording quality afforded to the Pfitzner is no improvement
(if anything it's worse). But here is a prime example of how a fine performance
can make the ambient chip pan seem trivial. Pfitzner conjures up a pregnant
sense of mystery in the first movement's introduction. His sense of rhythm
throughout the piece is masterly. The transition to the recapitulation is
magical because of his preparation and grasp of structure. The Adagio
flows beautifully and inevitably, for once the dotted rhythm not sounding
as if the needle has stuck in the groove. For a period when brass playing
could be, shall we say, variable, the high horn entry in this movement is
impeccable. Although there is some hesitancy and scrappiness in the last
movement, this performance is one to return to and learn from.