BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7; Symphony No. 8; Symphony No. 9: Movement One – Orchestre de la Societé des Concerts du Conservatoire/ Carl Schuricht – Pristine Audio PASC 704 (75:23) [www.pristineclassical.com] *****
German conductor Carl Schuricht (1880-1967) has always represented a fierce independence of mind, an orchestral leader with natural talent and force of will who, after initial studies with Humperdinck and Reger, evolved under the spell of such luminaries as Mahler, Weingartner, Muck, Nikisch, and Richter. As if in spite of his Teutonic heritage, Schuricht sought a consistent, lyrical luminosity in his style, which did not lack for vitality, as witnessed here in Beethoven’s music, recorded 1957 and 1958 (initially by EMI) with a French orchestra at the Salle Wagram, Paris.
That the French Conservatory Orchestra, favors a distinct string vibrato may trouble some auditors, but in the historical perspective, Schuricht brings us a Beethoven cycle with one of the more distinguished of France’s leading symphonic ensembles. The pungent immediacy of attack in Symphony No. 7 (12 June 1957) makes its distinctive entry with the Poco sostenuto of movement one, strings, oboe, horns, and timpani in full throttle, Schuricht’s tempo do not dally; he seeks an urgent monumentality in Beethoven that delivers a combination of muscularity and exalted poetry. The Vivace sounds much like what Beecham favors in spontaneous propulsion and exuberant drive, except for the fact that the British did not care for the sound of the French brass. I find the effect both luxuriant and thrilling. If the ensemble occasionally reveals a rough edge, it does not gloss into polite, orchestral molasses a la Karajan. The manic, punctuated sweep of the music quite overpowers in a manner distinctive in its temper and grandeur from, say, Klemperer, savoring a romantic’s grand sense of color.
Equally compelling in its emotional directness, the wonderful Andantino in A Minor, the most tragic music in Beethoven, proceeds with colossally willful, somber dignity. The contrapuntal string lines throb with a mighty compassion for humanity in sonic majesty. The hand-crafted woodwind and brass instruments by French artisans, seem infused with memories of less happy days in France that Schuricht, too, well recalled. The Presto, in its vivid enthusiasm, rather stints on repeats, but the rhythmic frenzy warrants forgiveness. The deft articulation, lightly rendered, reminds me of Beecham’s athletic and transparent approach, resonant with lithe charm. The trumpets and flute emerge with distinctive color entirely their own. And the brass, vibrato in full stride, dominate the explosion that defines the last movement Presto con brio, which either gallops or bounces with youthful fervor in what Richard Wagner had characterized as “the apotheosis of the dance.” Like Beecham – even allowing for comparison to Toscanini – Schuricht captures a dervish-like compulsion in the music that has aroused his ensemble to exceed themselves for conviction that still adheres to discipline. If you happen to be wearing a hat while listening, be sure to pin it down securely.
In its initial reception from EMI, Schuricht’s reading of Beethoven Symphony No. 8 (10 May 1957) proved cool and unsympathetic. The wind and brass colors irked British critics, who found, generally, French ensembles unsuited to the Beethoven style. I find Schuricht’s lean, robust approach similar to what his idol, Felix Weingartner, achieved in his classic reading in Vienna. The opening movement, Allegro vivace e con bio, enjoys a fervent sense of pomp, mockingly Homeric though it may be. Again, the individual instrumentalists – the winds, low strings, and brass – receive their color due. The tempestuous energy Schuricht elicits seems to shift the orchestral weights from side to side, perhaps unevenly, as the antiphonal choirs each voice their contribution to the colossal stretto Beethoven builds. The genial, heroic clarity of the occasion, nevertheless, vaunts across the heavens with a defiant fist raised.
The musical puns (in variation) on the newly invented metronome of movement two, Allegretto scherzando, arise in quick succession as Schuricht guides the music with deft, alert energy. Nothing of the galant marks Schuricht’s Tempo di Menuetto third movement, designed to jolt traditional expectations into the tavern. Each new surge of the initial rhythmic pulse gains girth and resolve, until, by the time the brass enters, the effect has become militant. The Trio is all brash irreverence, though the string legato quite soothes our insulted sense of propriety. The da capo virtually swoops upon us, clamoring for attention its exuberant finery, a strutting peacock of skittish colors. Schuricht sets an unrelenting, unapologetic pace for the fourth movement Allegro vivace, one to set even speedy Hermann Scherchen’s heels in motion. If the French players betray moments of raggedness and loss of uniformity in execution, Schuricht’s sheer ecstasy of motion justifies the price of admission.
Andrew Rose has include the monaural version of Schuricht’s first movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, recorded late May 1958. In the interest of having preserved Schuricht’s intentions, Pristine includes the fifteen-minute, monaural take; while the next volume in the Schuricht Beethoven series will provide his stereo version, whose first movement reveals a new tempo and altered emphases.
Both the readings by Furtwaengler and Horenstein come to mind, given the immediate, forceful projection of the open fifths and sustained bass tones of this enraged, insistent realization of Beethoven’s Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso indication. Besides the power inherent in Schuricht’s driven vision, the singing, vocal character of the line does not forfeit to the dramatic imperatives of the music’s contrapuntal and arhythmical syntax. We immediately savor the compulsions in Beethoven that led to Schuricht’s convictions in the music of Anton Bruckner. In Pristine’s XR remastering, the sonic wealth of these Beethoven documents has consistently enthralled this listener’s attention.
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