> BEETHOVEN 3 Herbig [TD]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.3 in E flat major "Eroica"
Berliner Sinfonie-Orchester/Günther Herbig
Rec 1982, Christuskirche, Berlin


This release commemorates Günther Herbigís seventieth birthday and the liner notes go into some detail about his career at the time the recording was made in 1982. The orchestra is the fine Berlin Symphony, the band set up with East German state funding in 1952 to try to compete with the Philharmonic over in the west part of the old divided city and the studio used is the mellow and spacious Christuskirche. Herbig was Chief Conductor of the orchestra at the time and all seemed well. Within a year, however, he would emigrate from the old East Germany and build a career in the west, intrigued out of his job by the bureaucrats in the GDR.

Herbig is one of those craftsmen German conductors for whom the word "dependable" might have been invented. But please donít think that I use the word in any pejorative sense, quite the opposite. It is the case with some actors that you know as soon as they come on stage that everything is going to be right. They have clearly learned their parts to the last word and the performance they give will be solid and secure and you will be able to relax and let them entertain you. The same applies to some conductors, especially of the central German repertoire of which this symphony is central to it and Herbig is certainly one of those conductors. Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt was another and so too was the recently deceased Günter Wand. In fact I think Herbig has been quite badly overlooked in the pantheon of modern day masters of the baton. Not as flashy as some of his colleagues, not as media friendly, just a great musician with artistic depth which can often not count for as much as it should these days. Maybe that will change, as he is still very active.

One conductor once said that if you can get the first movement of the "Eroica" right you should be able to get right everything else right in the same repertoire. Herbigís performance of the first movement is an excellent example of balanced force exquisitely applied in all the right areas. It moves along with great energy and verve and yet never is there a feeling that we are being rushed. There is balance at all times too and some imperceptible relaxation of tempo in the valleys of the movement but the effect of the symphonic pull is maintained. By the immense coda, surely one of the great passages in all symphonic movement, Herbig has built up a real head of steam and the orchestra is with him all the way. The funeral march carries on in much the same vein though the tension relaxes enough for us to know we are in different territory. There is the correct amount of grieving but this is elegy rather than requiem and an elegy for a man of action conveyed by the way that the movement takes off in the central fugue, thrusting and powerful. This passage, always key to reading a performance, is an argued and forceful essay in the dramatic. These players clearly know this man well and obviously want to play well for him. Then in the Scherzo Herbig adopts a wonderfully rubicund and genial air for the horn led Trio. In the Scherzo proper notice also the fine string playing and the spacious recording playing its part too.

Herbig would record the "Eroica" again in the studio in 1994 with the Royal Philharmonic for their short-lived Royal Philharmonic Collection on the Tring bargain label. That was not in the catalogue long which was a pity because it was a performance I liked. I was pleased, therefore, when this earlier recording arrived. What is interesting, however, is the fact that Herbig seems to have confounded an old dictum that as conductors get older tempi get slower. Overall this 1982 recording of the "Eroica" is over two minutes slower than the one he made twelve years later and is none the worse for that. This does also represent what we might still refer to as "big band Beethoven", so not for Herbig any of the recent authentic practice touches. But if you expect the last movement to lack any sense of direction, to meander and dissipate its essential energy and humour in any way, then you would be mistaken. What you get maintains the mood of the previous movements and yet fulfils the device of transformation out of tragedy Beethoven clearly meant to convey by the end. From the opening, played "attacca", as it would be in the later RPO recording, Herbig manages to move through the Prometheus variations with a lovely sense of poise and style. Humour may not be high on his menu but he certainly has lightened the mood sufficiently to convey the overall effect of this remarkable work. The late, horn-led delivery of the theme has fine grandeur and the coda is winning. Rounding off a studio performance that gives every impression of being a "live" one and which will give you much pleasure as it did me

A rich, vibrant performance by a neglected craftsman. Happy birthday, Günther Herbig.

Tony Duggan


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