This is volume 9
of a series of Beethoven’s complete orchestral works.
First up is the
Eighth Symphony and you won’t find a performance anywhere with
more clarity and bite. Dausgaard really takes to heart Beethoven’s
first movement tempo directions of quick, lively and fiery.
The crisp accents throughout and freshness of the strings is
a joy. Yet the second theme (tr. 1 0:40) still has an assured
nonchalance about it, though the ritardando, the gradual
slackening in speed, towards its close (0:46-0:47) is so subtly
done it’s almost imperceptible. The contrasting woodwind passages
marked ‘sweet’, for example at 0:49 and 1:17 could perhaps be
just a touch smoother but the whole has a scrubbed clean feel.
The dynamic contrasts of the keen development (3:36) are finely
savoured from the soft string passages to the very loud full
orchestra ones. The recapitulation of the theme in bassoons,
cellos and basses against the rest of the orchestra also fff
(5:06) is hardly audible but that might well be Beethoven’s
jocular intention because he soon repeats it (5:15) on flute
and clarinet without any distractions. The soft, sweet clarinet
solo at the beginning of the coda (7:03) is as beautifully realized
as the momentum brought to Beethoven’s extension of the coda
after the first performance (7:34 to 8:04) is adept, with a
really ringing fff.
To the second movement
Allegretto scherzando (tr. 2) Dausgaard brings an elegant
deftness. He has clearly decided the movement needs no special
pleading and plays it straight. So it starts light, soft, dainty
and petite with the first of many such surprises when it suddenly
gets loud at 0:24, with clear but not overdone dynamic contrasts.
The second theme (0:53) is firmer, its second section (1:05)
has a playfully toying poise to which its third (1:20) provides
a genteel response.
of the third movement Minuet (tr. 3) is even more of a revelation.
I’ve seen it described as grand or stately and considered somewhat
quaint. Not here. Dausgaard keeps it flowing, with just light
application of the sforzandi, those sudden accented chords,
at the very opening and generally something of a swing. By the
second section (0:29) there’s a bounce in the sforzandi,
then a smiling bassoon solo (0:48) and buoyant trumpets and
horns’ eruption (1:05) towards the end. The Trio (2:04) has
the intimacy of chamber music and individuality of expression,
so you get involved in the developing dialogue between horns
and clarinet set off by the busy but lightly articulated cellos’
A sense of bold
experiment pervades Dausgaard’s finale (tr. 4), of pushing both
music and mood beyond expected bounds. The very soft opening
is feathery but also eager and pacy. So there’s both finesse
and animation. When the music suddenly turns loud (0:14) with
the incongruous appearance of an alien C sharp which haunts
the movement, the outcome is effervescent bolting. The second
theme (0:38) offers a brief relief of balmy relaxation with
a particularly graceful oboe. The first development (1:11) is
mysterious then rigorous, the second (3:27) still more with
an unsettling weight given the pauses (3:38 and 3:42). Yet the
coda (5:45) brings a shiningly emphatic close. Overall Dausgaard
reveals here a good deal of the wild and unexpected elements
of the seventh symphony finale.
I compared the Chamber
Orchestra of Europe/Nikolaus Harnoncourt recorded live in 1990
(Elatus 0927496202). Here are the comparative timings:
first movement makes for a more rounded contrasting of the second
theme, treated more gracefully and dreamily, a more pointed
ritardando and more lovingly moulded woodwind passages
and delicacy of the relationship between woodwind and violins.
There’s more of a feeling here of looking back to the 18th
century as well as embracing the vigour of the 19th.
With Dausgaard you’re more aware of the keen momentum. Both
Harnoncourt and Dausgaard make the exposition repeat a little
more fiery, anticipating the development and both provide an
equally exciting development. But with Dausgaard there’s more
sinew and guts evident and the movement as a whole is more compelling
as a progressive argument.
movement is dainty and charming, the melodies are caressed with
stylish phrasing yet the accents are also firmly pointed. Everything
is satisfyingly in balance, the third section especially suave.
In comparison Dausgaard lets the melodies look after themselves
and emphasises dynamic contrasts and rhythm. From this emerges
in turn great delicacy and resilience and throughout more playfulness.
is quite bouncy, full of firm thrusts and counter thrusts but
with still a feeling for its melodic shape. The Trio is, however,
slower, ambling along melodiously and poetically. But Harnoncourt’s
overall timing isn’t as markedly slow in relation to Dausgaard
as it looks because he makes both Minuet repeats in the da
capo which Dausgaard, following standard practice, omits.
I add the direct comparative timing in brackets in the table
above. Dausgaard still swings the Minuet. His application is
lighter but there’s more momentum about his performance which
applies consistently to the Trio.
engages in stark contrasts, with snarling brass in the loud
passages, a rather pensive second theme which doesn’t relax
until its second recapitulation, an angular first development
with searing climax before a second development with a sense
of formal peroration. This honours the innovation of the movement
but it’s a bit serious. I prefer the sense of fun, of unbuttoned
celebration Dausgaard conveys from his bustling opening, smoother
second theme with a hint of relaxation immediately in its oboe
repeat and contrasting gentleness its reappearances provide.
I also like the clarity of argument of Dausgaard’s first development,
again a greater lightness of articulation than Harnoncourt and
then a starker, more climactic second development.
the mood of celebration with the Overture to the incidental
music Beethoven wrote for King Stephen, a play in honour
of Hungary’s first ruler. It begins with a trumpet summons answered
by horns, then 2 further chords of thickening orchestration
as a kind of motto. But this is immediately contrasted with
flute jollity (tr. 5 0:13) in relaxed, miniaturist chamber style.
The contrast is repeated with clarinet leading the miniaturist
material second time before the appearance of the very fast
main theme with vigorously syncopated thrust (1:00). Its repeat
(1:25) explodes ff but it now develops in light hearted
fashion before working itself into a more heroic closing statement
(2:13) more characteristic of Beethoven. The overall effect
is somewhat episodic but irrepressibly high spirited and Dausgaard
throws his orchestra into the proceedings with considerable
gusto. He also gives us the Victory March which has a
buoyant, quite soft start on horns and drums before strings
and woodwind join in for a repeat resplendent and swaggering
as is the high profile rest. Last comes the Sacred March,
a brief, veiled, cloistered and contemplative piece for strings
and very soft solo horn.
continue with The Ruins of Athens. The Overture’s stark
introduction with stabbing sforzandi in the strings (tr.
8 0:20) soon gives way to a benign march introduced by the oboe
(0:39), with a flourish in its tail that the strings can take
up (1:10). This has heroic free flight of imagination and gulping
gasps of freedom about it which make this overture more attractive
than that of King Stephen. It’s crisper too, despite
finding time for an amicable conversation between oboe and bassoon
Dausgaard also gives
us the only other purely orchestral item, the Turkish March.
He gets the carnival atmosphere across well, with soft opening,
gradually getting louder like an approaching procession and
then receding. He doesn’t overdo the dynamic contrasts within
the presentation of the theme itself. The Turkish element is
catered for by ubiquitous triangle, punctuated by cymbals and
bass drum though I’d have liked the latter more prominent.
You may know the
famous 1957 Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Beecham recording
(EMI 5865042). This has more magic, with more of a feel for
the melody and sorrow mixed in with the Overture’s sforzandi,
the oboe’s conversation with bassoon more like that of a free
spirit and generally a more swashbuckling manner, especially
in the scything strings of the Turkish March. Dausgaard
gets Beethoven’s intentions and effects clearly across. Beecham
just makes him seem a bit po-faced.
overture is well known and effective owing to the terse alternation
of the bright and decisive action of its Allegro with
the pondering Adagio (tr. 10 0:07) which seems to find
beauty in less happy circumstances. So when the horn has the
opening theme (1:33) it’s hopeful but less brazen and the strings’
retort (1:46) skips cheerily in gratitude rather than with bluster.
Dausgaard catches well the momentum and eagerness with which
this all unfolds so the very fast coda (4:59) seems inevitable.
I compared the 1999 Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim (Warner
2564 618902). This is slower, 6:56 against 5:58, weightier with
more marked contrasts between the two tempi and moods but thereby
lacks Dausgaard’s sense of the significance of pulse in creating
an overall momentum. I also missed Dausgaard’s lightness of
Next, the designated
Introduction to Act 2 of the tragedy Tarpeja, is also
associated with Fidelio. I think Barry Cooper’s view
in his book on Beethoven published in 2000, that it was in its
precursor, the 1805 version of Leonore, more likely than
George Hall’s suggestion in this CD’s booklet that it was in
a Fidelio revival. Cooper points out it signals the entrance
of Pizarro and the music’s “disconcertingly abrupt modulations”
indicate his dubious character. Certainly the sforzandi
appear especially stark, eg. at tr. 11 0:42 and elements of
instability increase from 1:22. The Triumphal March (tr.
12) which is in Tarpeja is altogether jollier yet also
has a degree of headiness in its climaxes, e.g. from 0:52. Schubertian
but with a more manic quality.
Overture (tr. 13) Dausgaard reveals to be an effervescent piece
pushing the boundaries of expression, Beethoven approaching
Berlioz. A work of inventive progression but stronger in its
rhythmic interest and cohesion than in its memorable melodic
content. The flexibility of the urbane strings’ theme (0:39)
after the grand opening flourish of the introduction is, nevertheless,
an effective contrast and finds its counterpart in the graceful
second theme of the main body (2:21) before this launches from
2:38 into increasingly boisterous abandon. A piece pulsating
with energy and Dausgaard doesn’t compromise on its rawness
Finally comes Beethoven’s
most populist work, Wellington’s Victory. First (tr.
14) we hear the English drums arriving from the left distance
so you can imagine the phalanx coming into view, a trumpet call
and then a cheerful wind band play Rule Britannia. The
French drums (tr. 15) enter similarly from the right and Malbrouk
s’en va-t’en guerre, in English For he’s a jolly good
fellow, is heard. When battle is joined (tr. 16) what’s
appreciable is Beethoven’s cueing of activity, cannon and musket
volleys, right across the sound spectrum and in realistically
irregular patterns. From 3:42 we hear a crestfallen Malbrouk
in the minor and no more shots from the left. The victory celebrations
(tr. 17) don’t lack in exuberance but of more interest I feel
is Beethoven’s varying treatment of God save the King.
First time (1:44) expressively refined in the woodwind. Second
time (3:47) punctuated by raucous full orchestra interjections,
like hoorahs. Finally (5:36) it appears at double speed in association
with an ingenious fugato. As ever Dausgaard performs with clarity
and verve. I compared the famous 1960 London Symphony Orchestra/Antal
Dorati recording (Mercury 4343602). He has the advantage in
the battle of real muskets and cannons added from West Point,
more explosive, but Dausgaard’s trilling rattles and bass drums
are clear and the music, whipped up in emotive sequences, is
allowed to generate more excitement. Dorati’s opening drums
and trumpet calls are more realistically aggressive but Dausgaard’s
forlorn Malbrouk more evocative. Dorati takes the victory
slightly faster, 6:33 against Dausgaard’s 6:54, and thereby
makes more whoopee but Dausgaard’s fugato is deliciously done.
An enlightening CD of fresh performances and stimulating contrasts,
through which you discover an unexpected masterpiece, the Eighth