Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphonies - No. 3 in E flat, Op. 55, 'Eroica'; No. 8 in F, Op.
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Hans
Naxos Historical 8.110910
Pfitzner's music has been catching the record collectors' eye over the last
year or two, with reissues of 'Palestrina' sitting side by side Lieder on
CPO. This CD presents Pfitzner as conductor of one of the world's greatest
orchestra. First issued on Polydor originals and recorded in 1929 ('Eroica')
and 1933 (No. 8), the standard of reproduction in this current incarnation
is excellent. The 'Eroica' in particular belies its date, with a quite staggering
amount of detail audible.
These are very much performances of their time. Pfitzner gives the first
movement of the 'Eroica' time to breathe, incorporating not only an unashamed
rallentando into the E minor theme but also introducing occasional (and
unexpected, to modern ears) portamenti. In this reading, nothing is rushed,
but nothing is cumbersome, either. The third movement is light-footed (a
complete stop between scherzo and trio comes as something of a surprise,
though). The finale is a triumph. Pfitzner sets up what appears to be an
unstoppable momentum and so for once the many closing reiterations of the
tonic seem logical. Such insistence seems in this performance to be the only
way to bring the piece to a close, in fact.
The Eighth is less of a success, but still never emerges as less than
fascinating. The first movement seems initially to be heavy and insistently
point making, but after a while it generates tremendous tension. It seems
much more raw than usual, and the reading as a whole takes this on. Surprisingly,
the second movement is as witty as one could wish (surprising because Pfitzner's
music is not known for its side-splitting jokes). It must be stressed that
the tempo fluctuations in all movements can be hard to take: at one point
the finale seems in danger of coming to a full stop.
A fascinating historical document.