Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Symphony No. 4 in A major Op. 90 Italian [28:50]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major Op. 55 Eroica [48:31]
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra/Bruno Weil
rec. live, Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre for Performing and Learning, The Royal Conservatory, Toronto, Canada, 24-27 May 2012
First let me assure anyone who avoids live recordings on principle that there is no sign whatsoever here of a live audience - no applause, no coughs, no creaks - and any slips that may have occurred in the heat of the moment have been unobtrusively edited out. Nonetheless these do have the feeling of being live and spontaneous performances. That applies especially to the Beethoven, where the sheer scale of the first and second movements can be daunting and can inspire conductors to give so much there that the last two movements can involve a reduction in tension. That is emphatically not the case here. The first movement, complete with its essential repeat, may seem underpowered at first, but nothing is missing from the funeral march and it becomes clear that the conductor sees the real climax of the Symphony as being the finale, where the complex slow section just before the end carries unexpected musical and emotional weight. The conductor balances the orchestra with great care to ensure clarity in the inner and lower parts, always ensuring a difference between forte and fortissimo, something essential in this of all works, and - a rare joy - makes only the briefest of gaps between the last two movements. As in the Ninth Symphony this is an important part of the musical argument and is arguably the point of the composer putting a single silent pause bar at the end of the third movement. All in all this is a powerful and thought-provoking performance. No serious collector of Beethoven will be satisfied with one, or even a dozen, performances of this work on disc, but this is one which is worth adding to any collection, however large.
The Mendelssohn is perhaps not so striking, or perhaps I have a prejudice against performances where each movement is taken so quickly. Having said that, I have to say that the usual objections to that practice - the loss of detail and inability to phrase with elegance - do not apply here as much as is usually the case. I did feel nonetheless that some relaxation in speeds, especially in the middle movements, would have yielded great dividends in terms of the music’s character. You may well feel differently, however, and this is certainly anything but a routine read-through. The disc however would be well worth having for the Beethoven alone, with the Mendelssohn essentially a generous filler.  

John Sheppard
This Eroica is worth adding to any collection, however large. 

Masterwork Index: Beethoven 3 ~~ Mendelssohn 4

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