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

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 in E flat (Eroica)
PERFORMER: La Scala PO/Carlo Maria Giulini
Giulini takes seconds short of an hour in this Eroica (even Furtwängler, under whom he played the viola in Rome, beats him by five minutes, let alone John Eliot Gardiner, who is in the pub a full 15 minutes before anyone else in the business). So it may be a slow Eroica which Giulini presents with the excellent La Scala Philharmonic, but every minute is worth savouring. As usual Giulini takes enormous care (listen to the final climax to the first movement in which the dynamics of the three horns are moulded layer upon layer until the whole orchestral texture is built around them). The funeral march is declamatory and operatic in the contrapuntal section, yet earlier there are some wonderfully rich string colours that skilfully balance the wind solos. Curiously it is the Scherzo which seems slightly ponderous in its choice of tempi, but the horns excel in the Trio. As with Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony (his farewell to the form), it is the contrapuntal complexities of the Eroica’s finale which never cease to amaze. Giulini attacks it straight after the Scherzo and proceeds in masterly fashion. Overall this is a powerful performance delivered by an octogenarian who may well feel it to be a final statement – but then hopefully not.