WORKS: Symphony No. 3 in E flat (Eroica); Egmont Overture
PERFORMER: Saito Kinen Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa
CATALOGUE NO: 462 049-2
In spite of the special insights achieved by the period performance movement and the potential interpretative vistas unveiled by modern musicology, certain recordings of warhorses such as the Eroica prove, for all their foibles, annoyingly resistant to the swings of fashion. And since nothing short of direct revelation from Beethoven himself is likely to lead to radically new perspectives on his creations, it seems likely that most, if not all, new attempts to scale this particular Everest will do little more than retrace well-trodden ascents.
This latest account of the Eroica, from Ozawa and the Saito Kinen Orchestra, is an agreeable and – given the current financial cutbacks at Polygram – a surprising addition to a bewilderingly full Eroica discography. It’s a fluent rather than a probing reading, insufficiently sure of its purpose, but aided by a recording whose clarity – in the first movement especially – casts sharp light on the structural implications of Beethoven’s scoring. As in previous releases from this band, the Saito Kinen strings prove the expressive bedrock, with woodwind and brass as reliable, but less than fully characterful participants.
Yet, for all the attractiveness of this approach, one misses the depth and intensity of, say, Furtwängler’s EMI recording, which, like most great performances, speaks to us, however abstractly, of its time. If heroes of the stature demanded by the Eroica tend to be in short supply today, then this lightweight account could well be what our age deserves. Meanwhile,
Furtwängler continues to show us a nobler way. Antony Bye