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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.3 Eroica in E flat, Op.55 (1803) [46’55]. Recorded 1954
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67 (1807) [31’15] Recorded 1955
Symphony No.6 Pastoral in F, Op.68 (1808) [40’46] Recorded 1961
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92 (1812) [42’34] Recorded 1959
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
RCA RED SEAL ARTISTES ET REPERTOIRES 74321 88681-2 [2CDs: 78.10+83.10]



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Beethoven from the "Golden Age" - or is it? The problem with having a reputation is that everyone expects you to keep it, and perform accordingly. So, does Reiner do this? I had not heard these performances before. Knowing the results Reiner obtained with other works, however, gives one expectations of the finished article that are not always borne out, and I am afraid that that is shown in these discs. This is not to say that all is doom and gloom; entirely the contrary! The first and last are superb, but the middle two leave some questions to be answered. However to the individual items.

In the Eroica, Reiner is in his element; full of power, hard driven, but not so hard as to be unacceptable. This is a very quick reading, surprisingly so for the year of performance (1955). The sound for this era is incredibly good; true, the strings are a bit wiry, but otherwise it would pass for at least 20 years later. At the start of the first movement, the playing is savage, but later (3’18) shows touches of tenderness. The violins are together well in the pizzicato sections and inner parts are very clear. In this they are helped by a quite reverberant acoustic. In contrast, the second movement is Adagio very assai, and taken at a speed of crotchet = 30, but this does not prevent the movement being well held together, as one would expect. The fugue is well enunciated and the speed is steady and unvaried throughout. The third movement is a very fast presto, a dotted minim = 120, quicker than Norrington and very crisp although at the start the violins are surprisingly scrappy. The fourth movement is taken at a more steady crotchet = 120, and apart from a very reedy oboe is unremarkable. However the symphony as a whole is very exciting.

The fifth symphony is a disappointment. I expected a similarly hard-driven performance but it turned out rather routine. The recording here sounds its age, which doesn’t help and there is not as much light and shade in the individual movements as one would have liked.

The sixth symphony also is given a precise but prosaic reading. The whole symphony is played almost in a matter of fact approach and the first four movements do not dance enough. In fact the playing does not take off until the final movement which is much more definite and lilting in character. The recording here is very much better and of course being much later gains benefit.

The seventh symphony is the other big success of these performances. This is much more to Reiner’s style, with very marked impulse and drive. Again the recording is excellent, and a very natural sound is obtained. The second movement emerges as a true allegretto, and is absolutely right for the music, allowing the contrasting themes to come through. The scherzo is more meno presto, but dances nicely. The final movement is extremely fiery and fast, with hammer-blow chords at the beginning and in the reprise. This is allegro con molto brio.

So, the performances are a bit of a curate’s egg. What I cannot forgive is the appalling packaging of the product. BMG France are responsible for this production. There is the minimum of description of the works. The two discs are packaged in one of those "glossy cardboard" folders with plastic inserts for the discs. Should these break or give way, there is no possibility of being able to repair or replace the container. There is no information about Reiner whatsoever, and the whole thing looks cheap and nasty. I do not see that we, as music lovers and collectors should have to put up with these standards of presentation. Other companies, but also BMG, please take note!

 

John Portwood



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