BEETHOVEN: Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43; Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” – Orch. Sym. de Montreal/Kent Nagano – Sony

by | Jul 7, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43; Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 “Eroica” – Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal/Kent Nagano – Sony Classical 88697857372, 73:50 + Bonus tracks: 12:00 ****:
Conductor Kent Nagano provides an informative note to this happy disc, expounding on the significance–for both good and evil–on the Prometheus myth in terms of humanity’s having unleashed the titanic forces–including the figure of Napoleon–involved in “progress.” The bonus tracks supplement his cautionary remarks by adding narration by author Yann Martel and French actor Lambert Wilson on the essentials of the Greek myth of Prometheus’ stealing fire from the gods to model the forms of human beings.
The five selected sequences–the Overture and sturm und drang Introduction, especially–evoke no end of passion and power in Beethoven’s  1801 ballet score, whose famed E-flat Major contredanse became the source of the “Eroica” impulse for his Op. 35 Variations and the finale of his Third Symphony. Beethoven used his ballet to underscore the “Orphic” element in the myth, emphasizing the plastic arts and their effect on human behavior. The string and wind sections of the Montreal orchestra display a panoply of lovely harmony, with the principle cello and flute in sweet colloquy in the Adagio. Tympani and brass set the inflamed, militant tone for the Allegro con brio–Presto, whose thematic kernel certainly finds its way into Beethoven’s opera Fidelio. Extremely clean articulate lines drive the breakneck music to a freshness of spirit quite exhilarating. The Finale sets the Eroica theme in galant gestures that soon expand and explode into monumental declaration of love and urge to spiritual freedom–quite in the manner of an operatic aria–for which we perpetually celebrate Beethoven’s music.
The Eroica–recorded in the Multi-Media Room, Schulich School of Music, McGill University and the Salle Wilfrid Pelletier, Place des Arts, Montreal–enjoys a vibrant resonance, and what seems Beethoven’s relatively quick metronome markings, including the first movement repeat. The “dry” approach to Beethoven’s staccati produces a sound we know from the “authentic” school of performance, though Nagano’s is a hybrid conception that embraces the old-world lyricism. The various building-blocks of motifs–of which there are eight–combine in lucid harmony and alternating clusters of textured dynamics to produce a fierce metric struggle for supremacy, the agogics deliberately askew to make the E Minor ever more seductive as an easy compromise to the issue of identity that permeates this huge work’s ethos. Fine French horn work from principal John Zirbel marks key moments, and certainly the decisive note of triumph at the movement’s coda, when all former weaknesses of character become resolved.
Oboist Theodore Baskin reigns in the opening of the Marche funebre, in what proceeds as a solemn and noble approach to this dire expression of existential grief. The music expands to heroic proportions–even with its bucolic recollections of things past–and an intensified counterpoint brilliantly captured by recording engineer Carl Talbot, who seems disposed to project Timothy Hutchins’ flute as a guiding light all its own. Urgent bassoons and low string textures fill out a spaciously contrapuntal design, the tympani of Serge Desgagnes and Jacques Lavallee poignantly resonant beneath the layers of resigned harmony.  The trumpet work approaches the Tuba mirum from the Requiem Mass, only to subside to the flutes and violas’ syncopations. The sforzati suggest that Beethoven’s spirit does not succumb easily to forces of nature.
The succeeding Scherzo rumbles and whirls with coarsely transparent energy, a rhythmic impulse and will to life that cannot be denied. The trio stands out as a testament to the hunting motif in music, the texture spread over three octaves and a sure sign to composers Carl Maria von Weber and Richard Wagner of the sign he wanted for their own concepts of Romantic rebellion. The finale–Allegro molto–begins without preliminaries, a headlong rush by Nagano into the theme and ten variations. The sec approach to the string articulation adds an edgy anticipation to the eventual rise of the main Prometheus theme proper. Lightness of texture marks the contrapuntal development of ideas, the contrary staccati and legati phrasings piquant, to say the least. That Nagano–and Beethoven–can maintain the sense of elegant dance in all this musical commotion testifies to sensibilities both combustible and athletically elegiac, at once. By the time the music has resurged from its minor variation to the colossus it once again becomes, we well know that Beethoven has forever broken any imaginative shackles that hampered Euterpe herself.
— Gary Lemco

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