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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No 3 in E flat major Op 55 Eroica (1803)
Symphony No 4 in B flat major Op 60 (1806)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (No 3 - recorded May 1936)
London Philharmonic Orchestra (No 4 – recorded November 1933)
Felix Weingartner
NAXOS 8.110956 [75.27]



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Naxos continue their exploration of the first ever cycle of the Beethoven Symphonies undertaken by one conductor – albeit one that came about as much by default, re-recording and opportunism as by foresight. Weingartner’s first recordings in the cycle came in 1923 (though he’d recorded much earlier still, as a piano accompanist to his then wife) but the earlier acoustics were generally supplanted in time by electrics from 1926 onwards. There were multiple recordings therefore of some but only one recording of the Pastoral and the Fourth. The Eroica displays many of Weingartner’s greatest strengths; the opening has a splendid drive - virile, lithe with clear accents, precision of chording and little variation in tempi. He is wise over distinctions between sforzati and equally so in terms of the trajectory of the movement as a whole. The funeral march however is the movement that will encourage most debate because here, famously, Weingartner ignores the stricture he himself made in his book on the performance of the Beethoven symphonies. The movement is certainly one of great (but typically not grandiose) nobility and restraint, the clarinet singing out with affecting depth, balance between string choirs splendidly maintained. But whereas he counselled specifically against hurrying at bar 69 et seq here he does pretty much precisely that – as he does in the fugal section – and he ignores his earlier stern suggestion of crotchet = 66-72 by taking it at something more like 56-96, thus subjecting the movement to far wider tempo extremes than one would otherwise have expected of someone’s of Weingartner’s assumed sobriety. Whether one accepts his solution is an individual matter – and it goes, presumably, to show that prescriptive concordats are modified over time and through experience. Very few things are writ in stone. The scherzo though is wonderfully animated and the Finale splendid – crisp and dramatic.

The Fourth was recorded a few years earlier with Beecham’s new LPO and I can recommend it unreservedly as an example of Weingartner’s sagacity. There is gravity in the opening followed by excellently graded string tone, the winds moulded with a degree of plasticity that never becomes lax. The Adagio develops an organic life, the bass line firm but not cloying or clogging – mobility is the aim – and the ebullience of the Scherzo is palpable, sprung with delicious weight, moving forward with real drive (see the almost contemporaneous recording by Erich Kleiber which is consistently slower than Weingartner for the first three movements before it unleashes a bullet of a finale). Weingartner in fact observes the ma non troppo direction for that Finale – adding witty exchanges between the crisp and vibrant strings, wind and the running double bass line.

Restoration by Mark Obert-Thorn, which is good, includes some added reverberation in the Fourth – he cites the original pressing as having been boxy. I’m not otherwise greatly in favour of this but it has been done discreetly here.

Jonathan Woolf



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