Beethoven: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 3 (Eroica)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: EMIEminence
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 3 (Eroica)
PERFORMER: RLPO/Charles Mackerras
CATALOGUE NO: CD-EMX 2246
Mackerras’s interpretation, which is drily recorded, has taken on board the lessons of the authentic movement – divided violins, a lightness of texture, and fidelity to the text, be it in phrasing, or the matter of repeats, or the observance of metronome marks. The danger of the authentic approach is that the trees can become more important than the wood. In the first movement of the Eroica, for example, there is no sense of the music unfolding over its enormous span. And, in the funeral march, Mackerras’s very occasional flexibility of tempo takes the orchestra by surprise – otherwise the ensemble is a hundred per cent.

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But better that than the subjective approach of Thielemann, which is completely second-hand, laid on with a trowel from outside. If you are going to start the Fifth Symphony portentously, way below the prevailing tempo of the movement, you have to do it with inner conviction. I didn’t believe in any of Thielemann’s many gear-changes, which occur in both symphonies and, it seems, neither did the Philharmonia, whose playing is often scrappy and below par, though well, if resonantly, recorded. If you want textual fidelity with guts, go for Gardiner on Archiv; if you want profound musical recreation, Furtwängler is your man. Martin Cotton