Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Symphonies: No. 1; No. 3,
Philippe Herreweghe, cond; Royal Flemish P
PENTATONE 5186 313 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 72:55)
This is the third installment of a complete series of the Beethoven symphonies conducted by Philippe Herreweghe, the
most recent volumes of which have been issued by PentaTone. I welcomed Volume 2 in the last issue. Herreweghe’s band is a chamber orchestra numbering 56 musicians, playing modern instruments with the exceptions of valveless trumpets and small timps; this set is comparable, then, to the series on Hänssler conducted by Norrington, though I also listened to discs conducted by Paavo Järvi and Sir Charles Mackerras.
The First Symphony opens with an expansive Adagio, and then a contrasting but not overly brisk Allegro con brio. In this performance, the interplay between tempos and modes highlights the ingenuity of Beethoven’s invention, and the military nature of the coda isn’t stinted. For the most part, this is a somewhat understated performance of the movement. Mackerras, for example, makes more of the Allegro section, with a more vigorous approach; Norrington, too, is more energetic in the Allegro. The sound on the PentaTone disc is full-bodied and resonant, with deep bass producing a big-band quality that is quite attractive.
The Andante wastes no time: like Norrington, Herreweghe adopts a clipped tempo for this “slow” movement, though Norrington’s pace is even brisker. By contrast, Mackerras gives us a more leisurely, contemplative Andante. There is no denying, though, that Herreweghe’s performance is songlike as well as fluent (
cantabile con moto
). Herreweghe’s Scherzo is marred by the common but pointless cut in the
As with the first movement, forward movement in the finale is balanced by a concern for expression and execution. This is more a satisfying last movement than a bravura one, which Mackerras’s most assuredly is.
The two most recent “Eroica” performances that I’ve heard are a study in contrast: Herreweghe’s is majestically scaled, elegant, balanced; Järvi’s is propulsive, light-textured, and nimble. Neither, obviously, is more “correct” than the other; I can admire Järvi for his energy and Herreweghe for his more nuanced approach. Järvi’s very quick first movement is almost a full minute faster than Herreweghe’s, which is not particularly slothful at 16:18, and I find the latter to be more satisfying.
Herreweghe’s funeral march is weighty and sober, but not ponderous; it is very similar to Mackerras’s. Järvi is once again faster, and the brighter acoustic of his recording is less atmospheric than the PentaTone recording; Järvi’s march is starker, almost skeletal in tone. Herreweghe’s Scherzo is busy, genial, and bright-eyed; the horns in the Trio sound very noble in their resonance and grandeur—quite a contrast to the natural horns of “authentic” performances. Järvi is again faster and lighter-toned. The Flemish performance comes to a close in exemplary fashion, with the variations-cum-fugue delightfully presented, capped by a coda of rambunctious energy.
These two SACD programs are obviously not equivalent, but both are characteristic of their respective conductors’ approach to Beethoven’s symphonies; on the whole, I prefer Herreweghe’s performances, and especially the sound production. PentaTone has provided a weighty, full, and deep production that renders Järvi’s RCA job lightweight by comparison. That could be said to apply to the performances as well.
FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 1 in C major, Op. 21 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Royal Flemish Philharmonic
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria
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