is volume 8 of a series of Beethoven’s complete orchestral
works. Volume 1 featured these performers in Symphonies 1
and 2, Volume 2 in Symphonies 4 and 5, Volume 4 in Symphony
7 and Volume 6 in Symphony 6. The present disc is distinctive
in that it couples the Eroica Symphony with some orchestral
works which have connections with it. Dausgaard’s context
is thus an awareness of both precursors and successors.
this explains why Dausgaard’s performance is such a tremendous
one with a distinct character of its own. It has edge to
it. Those famous two opening chords aren’t thunderous but
biting and crisp, followed by tingling second violins and
violas’ quavers and a deft leaning on the sforzando by the
first violins at the climax of their opening phrase (0:13).
This skill is important as there are 48 ‘horizontal’ sforzandi
in the first movement exposition alone.
first full orchestra statement of the main theme (0:41) is
as boisterous as you could wish, the beginning of the second
theme (0:50) slightly cheeky in its cheeriness and the later,
quieter elements (1:31) moments of smooth repose without
loss of momentum. The development bounces along with more
of those lightly stabbing sforzandi and every syncopation
the realization of Beethoven’s contrasts within the whole
that makes the performance attractive. The recapitulation
is ushered in by a soft horn call (10:08) before a massively
invigorating full orchestra response. In the coda the horns
lightly articulate the main theme at 14:31 while the first
violins shimmer around, yet the following crescendo is effectively
applied in transition to the fiery affirmation of the trumpets’ entry
relatively swift tempo for the second movement Funeral March
heightens the sense of incidents within and around the procession.
The precise, almost clipped, military rhythms in the bass
bring a trim formality over which woodwind especially and
occasionally individual string parts add personal comments
shot through with sforzandi which are here like pangs of
grief. A notable example at close quarters is the second
violins’ sforzando at tr. 2 3:14 followed by the first violins’ sforzando
at 3:15, aided in this recording by the placing of the seconds
right and firsts left of the conductor.
section in C major from 3:49, whether recall of happier times
or hope of resurrection, is particularly comely in Dausgaard’s
flowing tempo and climaxes at 4:10 and 5:00 in blazing military
salutes. The fugue from 6:09, introduced with startling stentorian
quality by bassoons and violas, is rigorously displayed.
third movement scherzo has a frisky, feathery, even stealthy
reawakening quality generated by the strings and matched
by the woodwind. The horns in the trio are a burnished confirmation
of that new growth. Everything is bracing. The syncopations
admire the way Dausgaard makes the loud opening of the finale
simply a rhetorical flourish without bluster, a brief stylish
bow before playful soft strings and stimulating loud wind
interjections immediately followed by soft echoes. This is
only the first variation, but the vivacity and humour of
the entire movement is set. It just races by, without any
feel of haste. The theme itself isn’t fully revealed till
the third variation at 1:45 and its darting exuberance in
this performance leads with a sense of total rightness to
the most festive version of the initial bass motif from the
trumpets. Even the G minor variation at 3:43 with the theme
in the bass is here exhilarating, while the Poco Andante
variation at 5:45 is by contrast suitably luscious and laid-back.
compared the best known chamber orchestra recording, the
1990 Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Elatus
recordings include the first movement exposition repeat.
As can be seen, the main differences in timings are a swifter
Funeral March from Dausgaard but a slightly slower finale.
But even in the first movement Harnoncourt appears more measured,
less helter-skelter, partly because his brass dominate the
strings a little more, though his quieter elements are creamier.
He shows an immense confidence in projection and both shocks
and charms. Dausgaard’s closer recording and string playing
are more abrasive, closer to period instrument performance
than Harnoncourt. His concern is more with respite than charm.
slower Funeral March is more stately and doleful, spacious,
solemn and desolate; but his sforzandi seem more mannered,
less natural in feeling than Dausgaard’s. Harnoncourt’s scherzo
is rather heavier humour than Dausgaard’s and the trio is
marred by exaggerated leaning on every recurrence of the
second note sforzando of the horns’ theme. In the opening
variations of the finale Harnoncourt is more polished and
smooth, more consciously crafted with a stylishness that
takes away a little of the spontaneity. Dausgaard’s Eroica
isn’t a weighty, epic affair in the manner of, say, the 1955
Philharmonia/Klemperer, but it’s probably closer to Beethoven’s
conception in rhythmic drive and vitality.
made more aware of Beethoven’s creative processes by the
juxtaposition in this CD of his Twelve Contredanses, number
7 of which is an earlier version of the Eroica finale
theme. In this context (tr. 11) it’s a bright but quite unpretentious
melody with nothing of the grandeur and nobility it attains
in the symphony. And then you’re also more conscious of Beethoven’s
deconstruction of it at the beginning of that finale. But
I found another link not flagged in this CD’s booklet notes.
Contredanse number 5 (tr. 9) contains at 0:16 and later repeated
what is essentially part of the tail of the Eroica finale
theme, the bit first heard on the oboe (tr. 4 1:59).
contredanse was a development of the French court version
of the English country dance. Contredanses are great fun,
not least because I think you’d find it difficult to name
the composer. The first (tr. 5), jollier and more melodious
than most, you might put down to Schubert, while the sparkling
nature and calm contrasts of the sixth (tr. 10) could almost
be a very terse Schubert scherzo. As you can see from the
heading, the contredanses differ in key and length, the latter
down to the number of internally varied step and therefore
music sequences. They’re full of offbeat surprises and would
require very nifty dancers indeed to keep up with Dausgaard’s
lively tempi at which they breeze along. Number 8 (tr. 12)
boasts a tambourine obbligato. The trenchant number 10 (tr.
14) seems a 19th century barn dance, while number
12 (tr. 16) is a more sophisticated mix of the slightly dreamy
and buoyant. Enjoy.
comes the Funeral March on the Death of a Hero Beethoven
wrote before that in the Eroica. This is the third
movement of Piano Sonata 12, Op. 26 (1801). Here it’s presented
in the orchestral version Beethoven made at the request of
the playwright Friedrich Duncker in 1815 for the incidental
music to his play Leonore Prohaska, where it honours
her death. You might like to think of it also being played,
as it was in 1827, in Beethoven’s own funeral procession.
But how does it compare with the original piano version?
listened to Alfred Brendel’s 1994 recording (Philips 4388632).
Paradoxically the link with the Eroica March is closer
in this version. It’s more personal, shot through with anger,
anguish and pathos. The contrasting middle section is more
defiant. The orchestral version is more formal and decorous,
the bass and bass trills subtler, the drum only taps softly.
The sforzandi are marked but few. The middle section is more
dramatic but its two four-bar phrases aren’t repeated. The
coda is shortened. The overall effect is more chaste and
dignified but also comparatively neutral.
CD ends with Beethoven’s two Romances for violin and orchestra,
beautifully played by Katarina Andreasson, the leader of
the Swedish Chamber Orchestra Örebro. She’s expressive without
being too sweet. The first Romance emerges as a savoured
meditation yet with touches of character. For instance, careful
observation of the soloist’s quaver rest at 0:40 points up
the orchestral repeat’s variant of two quavers at 0:54 and,
in turn, the soloist can then give the rest even more poise
at 2:48. The central section is more assertive before the
opening theme returns in silkier upper register. Dausgaard
brings an airy quality to the orchestration.
second Romance finds Beethoven more characteristically elegant
and humane. Now Andreasson brings a hint of wistfulness to
her sheeny line and the central section is more purposeful.
The bassoons seem curiously over prominent in the first orchestral
response. In both Romances I compared the 1997 Thomas Zehetmair
with the Orchestra of the 18th Century/Frans Brüggen
(Philips 4621232). They project the first Romance more sweepingly
and the second more smoothly. Zehetmair has more presence
in the first Romance and is more exquisite in the second,
but I prefer the fresher, more clean-cut approach of Andreasson
sum up, this performance of the Eroica symphony lets
you see it in a new light and in a context that is itself
fresh and illuminating.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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