Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E flat (Eroica)

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Decca historic
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 in E flat (Eroica)
PERFORMER: Concertgebouw Orchestra/Erich Kleiber
CATALOGUE NO: 433 406-2 ADD mono
Oboes can have a crucial impact on orchestral sound. The first oboe of the Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1950, when Erich Kleiber made his earliest recording of the Eroica to have been issued publicly, had a special version of that penetrating, sometimes unstable, Continental tone. Its unusually sharp attack and pronounced variety of timbre on different notes is now less common, as orchestras have become more homogenised.

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I mention it particularly, since it colours this alert and intelligent account of the symphony at several crucial points. Though the player’s tendency to wobble is more of a problem in the sixth variation of the finale, both the solos at the start of movements 2 and 3 and many of this player’s contributions elsewhere help give this performance a special, if uneasy, force. I’m not sure I’d want to hear it often, however.

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Otherwise Kleiber offers brisk tempi and highly charged playing combined with an unerring sense of the music’s dynamic unfolding: an almost ideal combination of a ‘modern’ approach and the traditional values he inherited, in fact. Even without the exposition repeat, the first movement has a compellingly symphonic sweep, and the other three movements are all individually characterised without ever resorting to mannerism. Good recording for an ‘historic’ release but, at barely 45 minutes (not actually totalled on the sleeve!), not good value. Keith Potter