Beethoven:Symphonies Nos 3 & 6 Import
Scherchen's Beethoven was one of the glories of the old Westminster LP catalogue, and it's wonderful to have them back, if only to vindicate memories of a bracing Pastorale and one of the most exciting Eroicas ever made. For all of today's obsession with following Beethoven's metronome markings, Scherchen got there first. In 1958, he sets a torrid pace and does it with more expression and feeling than most of today's groups can muster. By the end of the first movement, he leaves you limp. The famous "funeral march" flows nicely, never plodding. Scherchen doesn't have to milk sentiment to convey the emotional content. The Scherzo's a real roller-coaster ride, and the Finale bristles with power. This great Eroica is coupled with an excellent Pastorale. The opening "arrival in the country" is bursting with fresh expectancy. In the second movement, the brook bubbles merrily, flowing even faster than Toscanini's. The rest of the work is full of original touches. The early stereo sound holds up well. Even if you know these symphonies well, you need to hear Scherchen. --Dan Davis
It is true that the playing quality of the musicians is at times uneven. And the recording quality, while decent, is problematic at times. The two combine, it would seem, in some overly blaring sounds from the horns. Even given that Scherchen was looking for a rugged and dynamic performance, this comes off as too much.
But, Scherchen has nuances as well. Take the timpani in the funeral march, where the timpanist appears to use rubber mallets, in contrast to the softer malleting you often here. The sharper attack on the timpani sound is a good thing.
As for the Pastorale, how he gets through the first and third movements 20 percent faster than anything else I've heard, I don't know. It doesn't sound that much faster, but I don't know for sure if he's skipping any repeats or not.
In sum, I wish he could have had more recordings in better studios with better orchestras.
Works out great while driving....
Over the last decade and more, the "new historically informed" Beethoven has taken hold and has now been recorded with a number of conductors and orchestras. Much faster tempos - following Beethoven's metronome markings - supposedly make these recordings new and revolutionary. But as seen in this recording, the faster tempos are not new - nor so revolutionary. Scherchen beat the newcomers to the punch - by 40 years or so!
Personally, I grew up with the older, slower, romantic Beethoven. So I haven't totally jumped on the new faster Beethoven bandwagon. Some of my favorite symphony performances include those slower performances conducted by Bohm (Symphonies 4,6,8,9) and Giulini (6,7,9). But for years, I never really enjoyed symphony #3, and the performances by Bohm, Giulini and others always left me wondering why the 3rd Symphony was so highly regarded. It seemed ponderous and slow.
Then I took out this CD from the library. It was a WOW moment! The excitement and the energy are almost overwhelming! After listening to this performance, the Eroica became one of my favorite Beethoven symphonies! Is it perfect? No, far from it! The orchestra struggles at times to keep up - especially in the 4th movement when they are clearly running out of gas. Compared to some of the newer recordings, the orchestra is not nearly as technically proficient. But even though they seem on the verge of chaos at times, it is nonetheless glorious! None of the modern recordings that I have heard (Abbado, Rattle, Gardiner, Norrington) comes close to the energy and excitement that Scherchen and his crew generate! The closest that I have heard is Jarvi and the DKB - a fine performance, but still falling short in terms of sheer energy.
If you are looking for clean, technically perfect playing, you might want to look elsewhere. But if you want edge-of-the-seat excitement and energy - give this CD a try!
The Sixth is equally fine in its unique way and folksy as heck. Fast also, apparently paying attention to Beethoven's metronome markings again. What matters is what Scherchen does bar-to-bar within that speed and its far more engaging than what I hear in conventionally paced recordings. Scherchen knows how to make the music bounce; this is a Sixth that feels like it actually fits between 5 and 7 instead of being some odd bird. I've always believed that performances of the Nine Symphonies should come across like they were all written by a single guy named Beethoven, instead of a Beethoven-of-the-month.
I guess, being polite sort of, its a matter of taste. On the other hand, to be truthful, I sense in the criticisms that sort of hyper-focus and nit-picking fussiness, combined with too much attention to surface excitement, that's making just about everything in this world a total headache these days. Honestly, I'm very glad I was able to get hold of a copy of this before it disappears forever.