Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonies Nos. 1–4. Overtures:
The Creatures of Prometheus; Coriolanus
Bruno Weil, cond; Tafelmusik
TAFELMUSIK 1023 (2 CDs: 151:00)
Beethoven on period instruments is no longer as remarkable as it was even in the not-so-distant past. Several complete sets of the symphonies and individual recordings are readily available. I assume that this is the first volume in what will be a complete series of the nine symphonies, and if succeeding releases are as good as this
one, the series could well be a top choice for those who want to hear Beethoven performed on period instruments, at least occasionally.
It helps that these are live recordings, with very realistic, vibrant sound. (They date from May and September 2013, and were recorded in Toronto—specifically, in Koerner Hall, in the TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning within the Royal Conservatory.) We can’t hear the audience, but we can hear its effect on the musicians. These truly are performances, conceived and played along a broad, long line, and not cobbled together from a short take here and a short take there. Excitement and (apparent) spontaneity are the order of the day, and even if these works are within our collective DNA, Weil and Tafelmusik do not take them for granted, and so neither do we.
I would have predicted that the least effective performance would be the “Eroica,” as this symphony takes Tafelmusik farthest from its particular area of expertise. Granted, this is not Klemperer’s “Eroica,” nor Toscanini’s, nor Furtwängler’s, nor even Bruno Walter’s, during his so-called “Indian summer” in the recording studios. Played by a smaller orchestra, using period instruments and period performance styles, this “Eroica,” while it sounds less cosmic, less transcendental in its heroism, becomes a younger, brasher, lither, and more athletic work. In its own way, this performance is extremely enjoyable, and as long as one is reassured that favorite recordings by the aforementioned conductors (and others) remain available on the shelf, Weil’s reading is like an unbuttoned Happy Hour on a Friday afternoon with younger coworkers: You wouldn’t want to do it at the start of every weekend, but it’s a refreshing break from routine. And, hearing these readings, one can’t help thinking how far we have come from Roger Norrington and the London Classical Players, and Roy Goodman/Monica Huggett and the Hanover Band. Weil and Tafelmusik are in a different league entirely.
The other works make a similarly positive impression. I would have liked more mystery in the opening
of the Fourth Symphony, and more repose in the Second’s
, but there’s an honesty and lack of self-consciousness about these readings that makes them highly listenable. (In general, modern orchestras have an advantage in Beethoven’s slow movements, given their fuller string tone.)
This is not Tafelmusik’s first Beethoven recording, nor even its first recording of a Beethoven symphony. It does significantly raise the orchestra’s own bar, however, and I am looking forward to subsequent releases.
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in D major, Op. 36 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Written: 1801-1802; Vienna, Austria
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