Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 1 & 3

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: PentaTone
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1 & 3
PERFORMER: Royal Flemish Philharmonic/
Philippe Herreweghe
CATALOGUE NO: PTC 5186 313

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I found this a rather depressing disc. Philippe Herreweghe is a conductor whom I have admired in many things, including Beethoven, even when performing his most difficult work, the Missa solemnis. And the Royal Flemish Philharmonic, though I have never encountered it before, seems to be a mettlesome group of players. The accounts of both Beethoven’s energetic and witty First Symphony and the epoch‑making Third – perhaps the greatest single most innovative symphony in the whole history of the form – are unfailingly bouncy and pointed in phrasing, rhythm and tempo. But shouldn’t the second movement of No. 1 be more relaxed than this? Here it offers almost no contrast with the succeeding minuet. And though the first movement of the Eroica lasts 16 minutes, thanks to the repeat of the exposition, shouldn’t there be just a hint of ebb and flow in its tempos? And shouldn’t the build-up to the hammer-blow dissonances at its heart possess some distension? Doesn’t the movement embrace mystery and anxiety as well as aggression and volcanic force? The answer to these and many similar questions seems to me so obviously ‘Yes’ that I am amazed to find Herreweghe disagreeing, and in a comprehensive way. By the end of the disc I felt battered and, amazingly by this music, bored. Michael Tanner