This is one of those discs that features both excellent individual performances and a total package that adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Beethoven's 12 Contretänze WoO 14 contain the famous theme used in the finale of the Third Symphony, while the Funeral March from Leonore Prohaska obviously resonates with the one in the "Eroica" as well. The two violin romances, tastefully played by Katarina Andreasson, are the odd men out here, but they make a nice bonus. The whole program constitutes an excellent package that might have been titled "The World of the Eroica Symphony in Beethoven's Orchestral Music". It's a splendid idea, superbly realized. Thomas Dausgaard andRead more his crew play the dances with tremendous swagger and verve, making them sound like true Beethoven. The additional Funeral March also is quite moving, if hardly the equal of that in the symphony (it's actually an arrangement of the one in the Piano Sonata No. 12 Op. 26).
Best of all, the performance of the symphony is outstanding--swift in the first movement (in the manner of Gielen or Scherchen) and in general extremely exciting and intense. The use of chamber-sized forces playing full-out at the climaxes somehow fits the music better than many versions with larger ensembles, in which the work can sound too small. Take the first-movement coda, for example, where Dausgaard manages to execute that notorious passage where trumpets get only half the theme without it ever sounding as though something is missing. At just shy of 13 minutes, the funeral march goes at an ideal tempo, slow enough to maintain the necessary gravity but also having a true march-character. Notice how well the double basses bite into their drum rhythms, even at pianissimo.
The scherzo's rhythmic tricks come off particularly clearly in this performance, with excellent contributions from the three horns in the trio section. And I can't praise Dausgaard highly enough in the finale, so often a let-down, but here full of charm, wit, and surprising gusts of passion in its later stages. The coda doesn't have the sharpness of articulation from the horns that Szell achieves (no one has ever matched him), but with pounding timpani and gleaming brass it still offers a satisfying conclusion to a truly distinctive interpretation. Simax provides its usual state-of-the-art sonics, making this release one of the high points in what generally has been an amazingly good series. Simply splendid! [3/20/2006]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less