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Pristine Classical



Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major Op. 55 Eroica (1803) [45:35]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Felix Weingartner
rec. Vienna, May 1936


As before in my examination of the first commercially available batch of Pristine XR transfers, I’ll reprise my comments on Weingartner’s 1936 Eroica for those unfamiliar with it and then get to grips with the aesthetic that underpins Pristine’s work.

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 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.

This happened to be one of the best recorded of the Weingartner Beethoven cycle. True, the acoustic was inclined to be a touch cramped and airless – “boxy” in the well-known terminology – but the immediacy of the performance was audible then and is still audible today. It makes a terrific impression, and packs a powerful punch, even now. Restoration priorities differ. In his Naxos transfer [8.110956] Mark Obert-Thorn did what in my experience he doesn’t often do now – he added a certain amount of artificial reverberation to soften the Vienna sound.

The Naxos has more audible surface noise than the XR but, whether because of the reverb or other reasons, retains more sense of a room ambience. The lower strings – celli and basses – sound more charismatic and characteristic in Naxos’ work as well. More importantly the string choir balance seems more natural as well. Partly this has to do with a sense of bass overloading, or what seems like such, in the XR – though doubtless the rejoinder may be that we are now hearing things we didn’t hear before. Until that’s definitively proved one may justly have cause to wonder whether the conductor’s control of dynamics is being faithfully reflected. I ought to advise you, once again, to visit the company’s website and to consider the ramifications of their level of frequency extraction/intervention. What remains true however is the solid immediacy of the XR sound. Regarding the extravagant claims made for this new XR process you might want to read my review of the Thibaud/Cortot Kreutzer sonata for further details of the process.

Enthusiasm for this transfer depends on the level of intervention one welcomes. The use of modern reference recordings to “fill in” poor detailing in the original (percussion, bass line etc.) through graphs and the like, is scientific work and this was an approach Andrew Rose took in his Moeran Symphony transfer. This earlier Weingartner recording however will sound, according to taste, either very exciting or exaggerated - or maybe both simultaneously.

Jonathan Woolf 

Comment received:

In his review of the new Pristine XR transfer of Weingartner's 1935 VPO recording of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, Jonathan Woolf incorrectly states that I added artificial reverberation in my Naxos transfer of this same recording. He was probably thinking of the same conductor's LPO recording of the Beethoven 4th, which appears on the same CD, to which I did add artificial reverb (due to the extreme boxiness of the recording) and stated so in my booklet note. The bloom he heard in the Naxos transfer of the Eroica, however, is on the original discs.

Mark Obert-Thorn



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