BERLIOZ: Symphonie Fantastique; BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 2 – Philharmonia Orchestra/ Esa-Pekka Salonen – Signum Classics SIGCD 193, 67:07 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
After years of being protected by his LA Phil connection, and driven by agendas conceived of by marketing types, Esa-Pekka Salonen is starting to branch out on his own in mainstream repertoire. The results are not entirely surprising, but with every step Esa-Pekka Salonen takes, he has suddenly become a man worth watching and listening to.
The performances of both the Berlioz, which everybody knows by now, and the Beethoven, which was rarely heard in concert even when Beethoven was in vogue, are notable for the excellence of the musicians, especially when they are given something interesting to do. For example, the deconstruction Salonen opts for in the Adagio is played with the identifiable beauty and precision that has come to be known as Philharmonia. The March to the Gallows and the Witches Sabbath are nice and would make a nice sound on a big system. The Valse is charming, although it’s less a waltz and more a contredanse.
The Beethoven is an altogether different matter. It is a good choice: Beethoven’s second attempt at an overture for his one opera Fidelio, is the emotionally richest of the three, with hints of hard-driving sexuality. In any event, Salonen is oblivious to the mysteries that we associate so strongly with the German romantic composers of the 19th century. Instead, it is like being in the composer’s heads, feeling the ecstasy and exuberance that comes from being in love with Beethoven.
The tempos, like for the Berlioz, seem under control whatever their actual speed. When the final breakout comes at the end, the Philharmonia sings out soaring lines of smiling beauty, revealing more about Beethoven than all the original instrument recordings ever have. Salonen’s Beethoven is close to Kristjan Jarvis’ recent Haydn and Beethoven for Preiser. Together they could be an unprecedented Beethoven force around the world.
The sound is clear and precise, fueled in the Beethoven by the composer’s compassion for the imperfections of man. The series would have infinitely more impact if each booklet included a roundtable Q&A with the conductor and the musicians.
— Laurence Vittes
In celebration of 150 Years, Vaughan Williams!