Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonies: No. 7; No. 8
Bruno Weil, cond; Tafelmusik O (period instruments)
ANALEKTA 29947 (64:05)
DVD: Tafelmusik, Bruno Weil in conversation and rehearsal. Excerpts from
Mvts 2 & 4;
Mvts 1 & 4
This is the second
Beethoven disc performed by these artists to be issued by Analekta: a CD of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies was released in 2005 (though apparently it was never reviewed for
). Weil and Tafelmusik recorded the complete piano concertos for Sony with Jos van Immerseel; somewhat ironically, they now become competitors in the latest series of Beethoven symphonies performed on authentic instruments.
Though listed second on the booklet cover, the Eighth Symphony is programmed first. The first movement is positively vivacious, with robust sound from the relatively small band: the orchestra comprises 37 musicians, with a complement of strings numbering 7-6-4-4-3. Clarity is an obvious by-product of such numbers, but—under studio conditions—the orchestra generates plenty of body. There is a nicely sprung rhythm to the Allegretto, capturing the gently mocking tone of the music, while the Menuetto is elegantly paced; one can easily imagine courtly dancers in motion (Weil takes the cut in the
repeat). The boisterous finale receives a bracing treatment that is light on its feet but manages to produce a satisfying amount of noise as well. The sound production complements the performance with a naturally balanced image that is free of unnecessary highlighting. It is performances like this that persuade one that Beethoven wasn’t completely mad when he declared that this symphony was a “better” work than the Seventh.
My main concern in chamber-orchestra performances of the Seventh is whether the reduced ensemble can match the scale of the symphony. No worries here. There is power and joy in the first movement, with the antiphonal violins, as usual, providing a sense of balance to the string sound. Weil’s timing is closer to Hogwood’s than to Gardiner’s: the additional minute gives the movement an even more majestic character. The tempo for the Allegretto produces a sense of forward momentum that never sacrifices the somber mood of the movement (Weil is closest to Immerseel here). The last two movements are nearly matched in tempo and timing; this seems a slightly less egregious practice than the increasingly tedious practice of reversing the tempos (though the finale still sounds terribly fast). Both movements in their different ways prove to be showcases for the orchestra, as the nobility of the Presto is matched by the sheer bravado of the Allegro.
The bonus DVD offers excerpts from concert performances of these two symphonies. One benefit of seeing the orchestra as well as hearing it is in watching how carefully they observe each other: with all due respect to Bruno Weil, this is an ensemble that could perform this music without a conductor (music director Jeanne Lamon is an invaluable ingredient in the excellence of these performances).
This disc heralds yet another addition to the “next generation” of Beethoven symphonies to be performed on period instruments. Weil joins Immerseel, Manze, and Grossmann, musicians who are seriously committed to Beethoven performance practice that replicates as much as possible the sound of Beethoven’s own era. If the entire Analekta series is as good as this disc, Weil and his Canadian cohort should attain top honors in an increasingly competitive field.
FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 7 in A major, Op. 92 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Written: 1811-1812; Vienna, Austria
Featured Sound Samples
Symphony no 7: II. Allegretto
Symphony no 8: I. Allegro vivace e con brio
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