Notes and Editorial Reviews
There's a curious rule in the music world that conductors of an introverted, self-effacing character can play the living daylights out of works normally perceived as reticent or comparatively subdued, while signally failing to rise to the challenge of grander, more turbulent or heroic pieces. Such is the case with this magnificent pairing of Beethoven's Fourth and Eighth Symphonies, easily the best thing so far in Bernard Haitink's ongoing Beethoven cycle. Of course, that "rule" just cited is nonsense in one very important respect: any conductor is a performer, first and foremost. Anyone with the self-confidence to get up before thousands of people, year in, year out, and take on the
greatest musical masterpieces, isn't exactly shy or lacking an ego. These things are relative. But while Beethoven's Third, Fifth, Seventh, and Ninth won't sound very impressive if played like the Fourth or the Eighth, it's a fact that the Fourth and the Eighth can sound fabulous when played like the Third, Fifth, Seventh, or Ninth.
Such is the case here, with the LSO in absolutely smashing form. In the Fourth Symphony particularly, I am reminded of Karl Böhm's juggernaut of a performance with the Vienna Philharmonic on DG. Haitink finds such strength and vigor in the music that you can clearly hear, from the way the opening allegro explodes out of the introduction, that the finale of the Fifth truly is on the horizon. Plenty of power from the horns, trumpets, and timpani combine with lively tempos (has the scherzo ever had more bounce?) to produce an unforgettable experience. Nothing proves this more tellingly than the second movement, taken at an ideally lilting tempo. It's a veritable orchestral adventure in terms of color, texture, and range of expression. Sensational wind playing from the LSO principals really makes the music sing, and in the finale the strings do themselves proud, offering dazzlingly clean articulation (same from solo bassoon) at a very impressive clip. This is, without a doubt, one of the best Fourths around.
The Eighth is scarcely less fine. If I have one tiny quibble, it's only that the bass line at the moment of recapitulation in the first movement isn't quite prominent enough, a very common problem that's as much Beethoven's fault as the conductor's. On the other hand, Haitink is surely right to play the entire passage as one of the most exciting that Beethoven ever wrote. If it were any other conductor, I would say he really goes over the top, but however you describe it this is one hell of a ride.
Haitink's razor-sharp rhythmic treatment of the not-slow movement contrasts beautifully with the long, gliding phrases of the minuet, and the finale has unusual weight as well as unusual tension. As in the Fourth, the coda is about as thrilling as it's possible to be in this music. There may be performances as good as these, but at this level of achievement, both technically and interpretively, comparisons become odious. This is great work, period. Happily, the sonics comprise some of the best yet from this source in both stereo and SACD multichannel formats. All of this makes me very curious to hear the last installment in this cycle, Symphonies Nos. 1 and 5. If Haitink plays the Fifth like this Fourth, we may really have something. [10/26/2006]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 4 in B flat major, Op. 60 by Ludwig van Beethoven
London Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria
Symphony no 8 in F major, Op. 93 by Ludwig van Beethoven
London Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1812; Vienna, Austria
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