BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 “Eroica”; Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36; Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92 – Bavarian Radio-Symphony Orchestra/Karl Bohm – Audite

by | Jun 29, 2008 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 “Eroica”; Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36; Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92 – Bavarian Radio-Symphony Orchestra/Karl Bohm

Audite 23.404 (2 CDs) 49:14; 72:16 (Distr. by Albany) ****:

Visceral Beethoven interpretation from the baton of Karl Bohm (1894-1981), noted for his classically chiseled interpretations, rather literalist, but always insistent on a clear, sinewy line. The Eroica realization (8 December 1978) is no exception: after a forceful, initial thrust of E-flat chords, the huge panorama unfolds, with excellent work from the Bavarian Radio strings and horns. While the tempi are relatively moderate, the cumulative effect, like that which occurs in a Toscanini reading, seems much faster, a model of sonic economy. The lyrical delineation of entries and themes proves the rule, the landing rounded and reverberant. Played for scale and grandiosity, the first two movements celebrate personal will and personal tragedy, respectively, often to lush effect.

The Scherzo is a real monster, hurtling forward without apology, and immediately finding itself catapulted into the throes of the “Prometheus” last movement in the blink of an eye. The rocket figures in the flutes and clarinets insist on their presence, and the resultant, textural mix becomes indeed heady and polyphonic. Excellent work in the bass fiddles, a symphonic study-guide in orchestral definition. Bohm suspends the energy for the interplay of the woodwind choir’s variant on the original contredanse; then by degrees, he remounts the nobly cosmic frenzy, over a steady tympanic pulse. Already in the clarinet figures we can hear adumbrations of Bohm’s beloved Fidelio, here surging to a heroic whirlwind of a coda.

The D Major Symphony (7 December 1978) begins with little charm; it threatens instead with dark chords more reminiscent of the Fourth Symphony, while the woodwinds attempt to dispel the storm clouds. Except for his one survey of the Beethoven Nine with the Vienna Philharmonic, this is the only extant, commercial, alternative version of the D Major.  Once the Allegro con brio opens up, the energy passes beyond anything of Haydn into a maelstrom entirely Beethoven’s own. The development section’s passing dissonances are in no way mitigated; and the music rushes forward with hair-raising ferocity, so only the secondary theme can quell it, at least temporarily. Sonic separation on this Audite release is especially pungent, the wicked strings and horns competing antiphonally to scare me out of my wits. All musical Humpty-Dumpty delicacy crumbles at the coda, a peroration of unbridled fury. The unruffled Larghetto proves Bohm’s pride and joy, a bucolic hymn on an epic scale. The four-note interplay gently insists on a “fate” allusion to the later Fifth Symphony, but the tenor remains light, a piquant expression of balanced Nature. Fine work from the French horn section of the Bavarian Radio. A precise, lightly-molded Scherzo leads to the Finale, so abruptly entered upon that we can hear the Bavarian players turn their music pages. The music swells with shimmering power, and the woodwinds chirrup over suavely insistent strings. The slightly marcato enunciation of the main theme gains both girth and momentum in the course of Bohm’s studied development, as bassoon, clarinet, and flute add to the fecund mix of muscular energy and Homeric humor.

The Beethoven Seventh (3 May 1973) was a Bohm staple; and again, he elicits a rounded tone and lavish tonal sonority for the opening exposition, the oboe and trilled strings providing a sweet aura over a grumbling bass line. The upward scales seem to come directly from the Overture to the Creatures of Prometheus. The main “dance” motto combines lithe eurhythmia with elegantly spry figures from the winds and horns–virile trumpet work–a decidedly Primavera cornucopia of sound.  The Allegretto–whose slowed down rhythm under Bohm resembles Schubert’s funereal Death and the Maiden slow movement–exerts a hypnotic sweetness. No less lulling is the major key episode pursuant to the dirge. The galloping Presto third movement suddenly “devolves” into a hymn a the Trio section; and the exuberant Finale allows the flute and tympani to dictate the entire Dionysiac progression, with some strained exploits the trumpet and French horn. A huge pedal tone as the figures tumble forward, laugh, whirl, and frolic, the whole ensemble lit up in Beethoven’s controlled hysteria, all dictated by a 79-year-old conductor in full possession of all principals.

— Gary Lemco


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