BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92; Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93; Coriolan Overture, Op. 62; Egmont Overture, Op. 84a; Symphony No. 8: Andante molto moto – Royal Philharmonic Orch./ Felix Weingartner/ Concertgebouw Orch./ Willem Mengelberg (Overtures and Andante) – Pristine Audio PASC 414, 73:30 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
Having just reviewed the Decca cycle of Brahms symphonies by Riccardo Chailly, who claims Felix Weingartner (1863-1942) as his model for performance practice, it seems ironic to have received forthwith Mark Obert-Thorn’s latest – the fourth – installment of the 1927 English Columbia inscriptions dedicated to the Beethoven centennial of his death, featuring those symphonies led by Felix Weingartner in the Scala Theatre, London. The technical flaws and pitch fluctuations have been addressed and remedied beautifully with Andrew Rose in collaboration with Mr. Obert-Thorn.
Both Beethoven symphonies exhibit Weingartner’s natural energy and fluent buoyancy of motion. On the other hand, Weingartner, much like Toscanini, eschews romantic excess of expression, adhering to the metric design – in brisk, highly charged tempos – without stretching the musical bar lines. I recall having owned the 78 rpm set of his later Beethoven Eighth with the Vienna Philharmonic, and how much intense excitement that inscription generated. The 1927 may suffer comparative sonic compression and distant orchestral detail, as in the flute, but the resolve of the concept never wavers. [But it has to be better than the previous non-electric recordings…Ed.] The opening of the Beethoven Seventh sets a rather metronomic pulse, but Weingartner manages to soften the line with his fine attention to Beethoven’s color instruments. The bass line, especially the tympani, remains actively resonant throughout. The tragic Allegretto maintains a noble dignity without sentimentality. The Presto movement, a mite breathless in the outer sections, urges us forward in brilliant orchestral filigree. The ecstatic dance of the Allegro con brio finale resounds triumphantly. For me, however, Weingartner’s sway with the F Major Symphony (27-28 January 1927) authorizes a kind of interpretive hegemony on his part. From first to last, the flexible elan of the performance compels my musical attention, making me seek out his later VPO inscription as well. Had Weingartner lived in our age of modern recording techniques, his approach would likely have galvanized us all to attention.
How different the Mengelberg ethos! His Andante con moto from the Eighth Symphony (10 June 1927) possesses the same energy, but its inflated flair and penchant for slides in the string line attest to the conductor’s unabashed Romantic sensibility. The two overtures from May, 1926 convey power and dramatic intensity, albeit in brisk, economical tempos to accommodate the 78 rpm format. As reminders of the “solemnity of the occasion,” Beethoven’s Centennial of his death, these are sincere, even vehement, contributions to his musical persona.