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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 - 1827)
Symphony No.3 in E flat major Op.55 'Eroica' (1804) [49:33]
Egmont overture, Op. 84 (1809/10) [9:11]
Klangkollektiv Wien/Rémy Ballot
rec. live, 23 March 2019, Lorely-Saal, Penzing, Vienna
GRAMOLA 99210 [58:45]

Klangkolletiv Wien is a recently formed and youthful-looking orchestra, and this is their second commercially released recording, following on from their renditions of Schubert’s First and Eighth Symphonies on Gramola 99180. I haven’t heard this recording, but the orchestra clearly has no fear of tackling repertoire that has been tackled by everyone else for almost the entirety of recording history, so this has to be good, right?

Historical interest is present to a certain extent in a reference in the booklet notes to performers’ fees at the premiere in 1804. There were apparently only six first violins on this occasion, so “this transparent original sound orchestration, thereby opening up an acoustic reminiscence to the year 1804” is what we are offered. The strings don’t sound weak in this recording in fact, spaced antiphonally as they should be, and only occasionally popping out a little unexpectedly such as around 43 seconds into the first movement, but the sound is what you might expect from a modern-instrument ‘chamber-orchestra’ version of this work, of which there are already a few around.

As for interpretation this is a relatively conventional reading, and brings up timings not dissimilar to Herbert von Karajan’s 1984 Berlin Philharmonic recording on Deutsche Grammophon. By way of a more realistic comparison I had a listen to Thomas Dausgaard conducting the Swedish Chamber Orchestra (review). Dausgaard is much swifter and more extreme in the first movement, making the most of the light-footedness of the orchestra at his disposal. Beethoven’s Third isn’t ‘light’ music of course, and you may indeed prefer the more weighty tread of Rémy Ballot which, apart from a moment of dodgy intonation in the run-up to the fourth minute is at its most impressive in the funereal second movement, which is about three and a half minutes longer than Dausgaard. Ballot doesn’t really dawdle, but likes to make his expressive points in an operatic way in this movement, taking a leaf out of Klemperer’s book in making this into a monument in which the emphasis is on the Adagio rather than the assai. The Scherzo is nicely turned out with plenty of dynamic contrast, as is the eventful Finale, but returning to Dausgaard I find I’m missing miss a bit of the drama and urgency in this music from Ballot, that sense of Beethoven teasing us with his new box of tricks, making us take notice by popping up and throwing unexpected notes at the audience from behind the second violins.

I’m prepared to bet money that the “Egmont” Overture wouldn’t have appeared after the symphony at this concert, so why on earth is it put last here? I’ve moaned about this odd convention before, but with a live recording in which the function of the overture is announced by its very name I’m left shrugging my shoulders. This is a decent “Egmont”, with the strings digging deep and having a good build-up to those battering-ram final bars topped by a pungent piccolo, but neither of these performances is particularly revelatory.

In an over-stocked market for these works it’s hard to recommend this recording. It is very good if not flawless, but doesn’t have enough outstanding qualities to make it something I’ll feel the need to play again. There is very little audience noise and only a bit of page-turning atmosphere between the movements. Applause has been left in, and the recording in general is decent enough. I wish Klangkollektiv Wien every success and will be interested to see what they come up with in future, but if you are after chamber orchestra versions of these works then (for instance) the Chamber Orchestra of Europe with Nikolaus Harnoncourt on Teldec or perhaps the Danish Chamber Orchestra with Ádám Fischer on Naxos (review) have more punch and character, and certainly more to offer for repeated listening.

Dominy Clements

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