Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major Op. 55 Eroica (1803) [45:03]
Symphony No. 8 in F minor Op. 93 (1812) [24:08]
German Chamber Philharmonic
rec. August 2005, Bremen BMG-RCA
713066 (88697006552) [79:11]
Good thing that art, and especially music, defies mundane economics.
If recordings of Eroica Symphonies were cars, we'd
speak of an oversaturation of the market, excess capacity, and
the need to reduce the supply sharply back to healthy levels.
Governments would be falling over themselves to promote their
Symphony producers over foreign ones, or perhaps legislating that
the Eroica is too big and time consuming a symphony anyway,
and mandate that we all listen to Beethoven's Symphony No.1,
instead. Good thing it ain't so although that means
missing out on the scrappage bonus where we would turn in our
old, big bold Eroicas and get newer, leaner ones in return.
As it turns out, these new, leaner Eroicas are well worth getting
. Happily, no scrappage bonus is required; we can get them and
keep our Kleiber
(Erich) and Kletzki
and even Bernstein.
The lean one under review here isn't all that new anymore
and if I've been tardy in writing about it, it's only
because I wasn't sure my words could do it justice. Meticulous
cross-comparison ensued in trying to get it all right and in the
end I had nothing but papers with scribbled bar numbers (music,
not liquor), tempo comparisons, and exclamation points.
Appropriately I'm scrapping all that to simply say it how
it is: Paavo Järvi's disc with the Third Symphony of
Beethoven (and a nearly equally zany Eighth) performed by the
German Chamber Philharmonic of Bremen is stunning. One of those
recordings that, after having listened to something like four
dozen other Eroicas, you didn't think would come along. If
the phrase 'blow your socks off' ever made sense, it does
here. This is a brisk, bold, in your face performance. Järvi
smacks the symphony into your face with a force that makes Osmo
Vänskä's take (BIS)
sound almost tame. And my hitherto favorite Gardiner (Archiv),
the only one to take all the repeats and still clock in below
Järvi (45:03 to 44:29), ends up sounding rather breezy, as
if Gardiner didn't really mean to speed. Using a 28-player
string section (8-7-5-5-3), Järvi's Chamber Orchestra
sounds to be in complete control of the work, too, whereas Gardiner's
HIP forces (tuned lower by a half step, give or take a few Herz
of wiggle-room) sound more authentically, if not necessarily more
Comparisons are inevitable, especially with three more SACDs of
the same symphony appearing in a short span of time and with approaches
to the music that, at least superficially, are similar: Vanska,
Andrew Manze (Harmonia
Mundi) and Philippe Herreweghe (Pentatone).
But if you expect the same lean, Järviesque, violent tenacity
from Manze or Herreweghe (perhaps amplified by their HIP gene),
you are in for a surprise. If Järvi slaps, Manze and Herreweghe
pat. And gently at that. Listened to after getting ready and riled
with the Bremen band so bent on speed and creative mayhem the
gentleness comes as a sore disappointment, at least at first.
Taken on his own merits, Manze (50:24) excels especially in the
pleading, soaring moments he builds from his rather lyrical approach.
The fourth movement is worth the investment in Manze's disc
alone. [Aside, it's very appropriately coupled with the 'Creatures
of Prometheus' ballet music finale, revolving around the same
topic (Napoleon) and melody (used again in the Eroica's finale).]
The Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra with its 40 string players
(11-10-7-7-5) makes as fine a noise as Herreweghe's Royal
Flemish Philharmonic (47:20), another modern, but historically
informed orchestra (natural trumpets and timpani, but not, for
example horns—and playing at 440Hz).
Somewhere at this point of the trajectory from Järvi towards
bigger orchestras and more modest tempos, Vänskä comes
in whose cycle—foremost his genial Fourth—has quickly
become my new favorite when it was released. He, too, uses a considerably
larger orchestra than Järvi. He consistently takes a little
more time and uses it to punch a little harder than the Estonian
Järvi. For those who want more meat on their Eroica-bones
but still tight and tough excitement, Vänskä 's
their man. Comparing the two would be like matching early Sugar
Ray Leonard (Welterweight Järvi) against Michael Spinks or
early Cassius Clay (Light heavyweight Vänskä). And,
once we reach Vänskä, we might realize that the early
Karajan (1963, DG)
is right up there, tempo- and energy-wise. No wonder people were
so astonished by his 1960's Beethoven cycle.
Thus working my way 'backwards' (mainly in terms of tempo,
not just recording dates) from Järvi's whirlwind performance,
I could probably favorably acquaint myself with the (lovely, actually)
Frans Brüggen Eroica (Philips)
which, though HIP, rivals not Gardiner but Barenboim in tempos
(a shade under 50 minutes, but not including all repeats). It
shows that you can wean yourself of the excitement that speed
necessarily brings, but only gradually. That every version of
this symphony has something offer isn't too surprising: It's
too great a piece of music for any interpretation not to. Force
me to name favorites among these here and I will yield Järvi
ahead of Vänskä and then Manze, because ultimately it's
the excitement I crave most.
But since the Eroica-economy is not a zero sum game, I
ask to be left dabbling happily in the multitudes, enjoying each
one, depending on my mood. All of which goes to show that many
ways lead to Rome. But only Järvi takes a motorcycle.
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