BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21; Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92 – Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Pierre Monteux (Op. 21)/ Pittsburgh Symphony/William Steinberg
HDTT HDCD160 (CD-R, also avail. as DVD-R & HQCD) [www.highdeftapetransfers.com] 62:20 ****:
I well recall the Symphony No. 1 as recorded by Pierre Monteux and the Vienna Philharmonic, as it came out attached to the Symphony No. 8 on RCA, a lovely addition to the label’s series of designer jackets, as well as two brilliant documents from an artist whose complete Beethoven Nine should grace the HDTT catalogue. Monteux takes the first movement (from 4-track London tape, 1964) repeat in the course of a deliciously balanced, driven rendition, rife with percussive verve and etched colors from the VPO woodwinds and horns. The airy poise and eminent clarity of line in the Andante bespeaks a lost era of Viennese grace and stateliness. The high gloss of woodwinds and French horns makes for a militantly playful cassation the likes of which would have delighted, even startled, Mozart. Breathless energy marks the Menuetto, whose playful thunder already shatters the galant nature of the form. Wonderful, crisp colors from the strings, winds, and tympani. Even the brief trio achieves a fierceness of attack that tells us this musical “servant” packs a whollop. The last movement blusters forth, then frolics with the elements of Beethoven’s Homeric humor. The electricity between the VPO and Monteux sizzles with musical excitement, so even hardened veterans of this symphony will wonder at its freshness and youthful invention. The Mannheim rockets in the strings alone would justify the price of admission, were not the complementary ensemble equally adept, imbuing every line with plastic fire. A thrilling performance, nothing less.
The Beethoven Seventh with the earnest Dr. William Steinberg (from a Capitol 2-track tape, 1959) proceeds with hearty relish, no mannerisms, and a decided point of view. Continuity between winds and strings in the Poco sostenuto has fertile tension and magisterial temper. The flute carries the motif ever so delicately over pulsating impulses that end with dactyls and trochees. The Vivace opens merrily enough, sinewy without heaviness; then the energy breaks forth in bright, horn-led coloration, nicely balanced by the lower strings and tympani. The first period ends with a mighty gesture, a verve absolutely voluptuous, which curlicues to the repeat, that remains taut enough to avoid any emotional redundancy in its joyous figures. The development captures elements of the hunt as well as the dance, the slow crescendo’s rising to a trumpet-tongued transfiguration of rhythm itself. Another woodwind serenade over a threatening tympani, and then the entire mass of sound affirms the limitless bounty of creation.
The tragic Allegretto displays a definite, erotic impulse, especially in the Pittsburgh cellos. The viola undercurrent to the high strings’ articulation of the somber procession becomes a veritable hymn to anguish, to redemptive suffering. The horns of the trio manage a tender smile in the midst of desolation, but the ineluctable dirge returns, the agogics soon transfigured into a fugato that implicates the world. The Presto demolishes all thoughts of mortality, and we take the flutes’ and oboe’s invitation to gambol with life. Steinberg exacts a homogeneous sonority from the Pittsburgh, a silken patina of sleek and rustic sounds that never loses its essential warmth. The trio stands as any audiophile’s test pressing. When the fluttering runs and trills return, they convey only a transparent recognition of Time itself, now speeded or rolled into a ball, whatever the poet’s conceit. Wicked trumpet entries for the festive finale, the triplets fast but in control. Long, lean and pungent lines intersect with whirling dervishes to punctuate a thoroughly proportioned Shiva’s dance, all her arms ascendant. Here’s a Seventh that bears comparison with the best of them.