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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 "Eroica" [50:10]
Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93 [28:29]
Müchener Philharmoniker/Hans Knappertsbusch (Eroica)
Berliner Philharmoniker/Hans Knappertsbusch
rec. Live, Dec 1953 (Eroica), Munich. 27 Jan 1952 (Symphony 8), Berlin. ADD
ARCHIPEL ARPCD 0223 [78:37]

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Hans Knappertsbusch was a great romantic conductor, whose way with Bruckner and Wagner are legendary. Apparently the skill set was limited to the latter half of the nineteenth century if these clunky, rhythmically ambiguous, turgid and oft out-of-tune performances of Beethoven are any indication.

The Munich Philharmonic, which was to become quite a fine ensemble under Celibidache, here plays sloppily, right from the should-be-stunning opening chords of the Eroica. Things do not improve too much as the opening movement wears on. Knappertsbusch was notorious for his apathy toward rehearsal, and it clearly shows that this orchestra is under-rehearsed. There is a noticeable lack of ensemble throughout and the balance between the sections of the orchestra is out of kilter in too many places. The only really successful movement here is the Funeral March, which by its own lugubrious nature rescues itself from Kna’s lumbering tempi. The scherzo limps along without a trace of elegance. The allegro molto that should bring the work to a triumphant end leaves us pushing on our seats for the orchestra to get the lead out.

Couple this with a less than stellar sound source quality, and the tubercular hacking of the audience, there is little to enjoy about this performance.

The Eighth fares a bit better, mostly by virtue of the generally higher quality of the Berlin Orchestra. Perhaps this is a flaw in the master recording, but the clarinet entrance in the first movement exposition is so flat compared to the strings that it makes one cringe in disbelief. It seems too that no mid-century conductor knew how to dance a minuet. The strings are so heavy-handed that one would thing that the dancers were wearing lead boots. The last movement plods along at a tempo that is too slow, and the playing is again, too thick and heavy to be elegant.

Recent Archipel discs that have come my way have unanimously failed to impress. The complete lack of program notes is inexcusable, and the sketchy information about the recordings themselves and their origins do little to convince me that this is a company that is particularly dedicated to preserving history. Rather, they seem to want to get whatever mediocre tapes they can locate and throw them onto disc before the public as fast as possible, with no consideration to quality of production. Basically this is slop, and I cannot find a particularly redeeming value for it. Pass it by. There are too many fine performances of this music and at good prices to waste hard earned cash on this.

Kevin Sutton


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