Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (Eroica); Egmont Overture

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 (Eroica); Egmont Overture
PERFORMER: Dresden Staatskapelle/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 434 120-2 DDD
Colin Davis’s cheerful expression on the cover of the CD booklet belies the seriousness with which he views this most expansive of Beethoven’s middle-period symphonies. All very well in the funeral march, where, with the fine Dresden orchestra, he obtains an admirably intense performance; but the finale is not without its comical side. Here, the opening bars are neither precipitate nor dramatic enough for what is one of Beethoven’s most rudely abrupt gestures; and the fortissimo interjections on winds and brass during the exposed accompaniment of the ‘Prometheus’ theme are too sedate to communicate their grotesque humour.

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The opening movement of the Eroica is a piece that relies on rhythmic impetus and sweeping harmonic gestures. It is not so much Davis’s broad tempo that dilutes its cumulative energy (though it surely isn’t necessary to slow down quite so much in the mysterious opening bars of the development, or in the approach to the famous new theme halfway through the same section), as the focus thrown on secondary rhythmic detail: the ‘chugging’ accompaniment to the main theme actually weighs the music down when it is so clearly articulated. It is true that Davis does let himself go, with thrilling results, in the concluding ‘victory symphony’ of the Egmont Overture, but by then I fear, it is too late. Misha Donat