Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Symphony No 3 in E Flat major, Op. 55 'Eroica'
Staatskapelle Dresden/Franz Konwitschny
Recorded in 1954
BERLIN CLASSICS 0090412BC [52.08]

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Franz Konwitschny may have been eclipsed by other great Beethoven interpreters of the mid last century (his Leipzig cycle of the 1950s/1960s has never quite been given the attention it deserves) but returning to this 1954 Eroica with the great Dresden orchestra has been a revelatory experience. This is an extremely fine Eroica and one that can sit in only the most distinguished company.

This is a slow performance (made slower by the first movement exposition repeat) but it nevertheless has a towering strength and nobility so characteristic of performances preserved on record by Klemperer and Furtwängler. It is a performance fully idiomatic of its period, particularly in this conductor's use of rubato which in the second movement funeral march comes dangerously close to bringing the performance to a standstill. One can also criticise the tempi Konwitschny brings to the scherzo - certainly more languid than we are used to with exaggerated lines and heavy textures adding to a density of expressiveness. Furtwängler (Vienna 1944) is even slower than Konwitschny in this movement but the difference is entirely in the intensity the former brings to this movement's development: where Konwitschny's scherzo is heavy Furtwängler's pulsates with energy, perhaps being more Haydnesque than Beethoven intended.

These are minor criticisms in a performance that scales dramatic heights - listen to the recapitulation in the first movement. How Konwitschny gets the orchestra to phrase the ascending bass notes in the opening of the funeral march (and how the mournfulness of the trio is characterised), and how he gets superlative articulation in the fugue of the finale! These are all notable achievements in an Eroica that places nobility to the forefront. Add to this playing of precision and intensity (the Dresden orchestra are certainly a better orchestra than the Leipzig orchestra Konwitschny used for his complete cycle) and the end result is an Eroica that demands to be heard. Although recorded in 1954, the recording is very fine. Hearing this performance through headphones brought the separation of woodwind lines and string syncopations into instant clarity and focus. If the sound is rather on the bass heavy side it more than equals the majesty of the conception. It remains a fine performance.

Marc Bridle



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