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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony no. 5 in c, op. 67 (1), Symphony no. 6 in F Ė "Pastoral" (2), 11 Viennese Dances, WoO.17 (3)
British Symphony Orchestra (1), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (2), London Philharmonic Orchestra (3)/Felix Weingartner
Recorded 17th-18th March 1932 in Central Hall, Westminster, London (1), 18th-19th January 1927 in the Scala Theatre, London (2), 7th-8th October 1938 in EMI Abbey Road Studio no. 1, London (3)
CD transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110861 [75:33]

My review of the Klemperer "Pastoral" (EMI Classics 5 67965 2) was in fact a comparative review of five "Pastorals", including this one by Felix Weingartner. I should like, therefore, to refer readers to it and limit myself here to quoting my conclusion that it is "one of the freshest and most vivacious accounts ever put on disc", "sounding remarkably well in Mark Obert-Thornís transfer".

This 1927 "Pastoral" was Weingartnerís only recording of the 6th (an earlier attempt, with the LSO in 1924, was not completed). He recorded the 5th, on the other hand, four times: 1924 (LSO), 1927 (RPO), 1932 (British SO) and 1933 (LPO). The latter was for many years the "canonical" one since, as Obert-Thorn explains, the 1932 recording was dimly recorded and issued only in the USA, necessitating the remake of a year later. Now that modern transfer techniques enable us to hear the 1932 version in sound to match anything of its day, there has been a tendency to rate it as the finest performance of the four.

The "British Symphony Orchestra" was a pick-up band of war veterans, but they were clearly musicians of high quality. Considering that the "deputy" system was still in use in some of the London orchestras of the day, one wonders just how many players it really had in common with, say, the LSO. I encountered it again not long ago in the Naxos transfer of the Szigeti 1932 recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, this time with Bruno Walter conducting. In any case the playing shares many of the qualities I commented on in the 1927 "Pastoral"; clean attack, precious little portamento in the strings and clear textures. Evidently Weingartner based his conception of the music on these particular orchestral qualities and had the ability to obtain them from whatever orchestra he had in front of him.

Whereas in the "Pastoral" he adopted very swift tempi, often in excess of Beethovenís metronome markings, you will not hear anything especially unusual here. He does, importantly, make sure that the right relationship is observed between the Scherzo and the Finale, for which Beethoven has indicated a broader tempo. Many conductors reverse this, producing a Finale of superficial fire and fury; others respect the relationship at the beginning but let the war-horse run away with them after about a dozen bars (Klempererís solution was to adopt the same tempo for both movements). Weingartner sees that a Scherzo which rises from the suppressed fire of the beginning to a trio of scalding energy then gives way to a grandly majestic (but not heavy) Finale.

By todayís standards Weingartner is fairly flexible in the first two movements. He does not make the so-called "fate" motive as portentous as Furtwängler but he does allow the pace to slacken a little more each time it appears. He also relaxes the tempo in the lyrical passages, picking up in the hammering 8th-note passages which are extremely dramatic. By the same token in the "Andante con moto" he allows the march-like moments to move ahead Ė not that the gentler melodies are in any way indulged. We have perhaps been conditioned by the single-mindedness of Toscanini and Erich Kleiber in this work, which was for long seen as the way to do it. With the rehabilitation of Furtwänglerís more romantic approach maybe Weingartner will become again for us, as for his contemporaries, the golden mean.

At times Weingartnerís Beethoven, like Schnabelís sonata recordings, risks sounding less remarkable to us than it ought. This is because Weingartner and Schnabel taught more than one generation what Beethoven should sound like; it was not ever thus. I seem to remember a set of acoustic 78s of the 5th under Sir Landon Ronald which a friend found in a jumble sale and which sounded quite different. I should be curious to hear it again. By and large the concept we have of a "Beethovenian sound" remains that of Weingartner even to this day; only the original instrument bands have seriously challenged it. The "normality" of his Beethoven is in fact a measure of its achievement. With alert and if not always immaculate performances of the 11 Viennese Dances to show that the conductor could equally relish the lighter side of Beethoven, this instalment of the first complete recorded cycle of Beethoven Symphonies is no mere historical document; it still has life and illumination to match the best of its successors.

Christopher Howell

see also review by Jonathan Woolf

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