Beethoven: The Creatures of Prometheus; Symphony No. 3 in E flat

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: The Creatures of Prometheus; Symphony No. 3 in E flat
PERFORMER: Montreal Symphony/Kent Nagano
CATALOGUE NO: Sony 88697857372

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The legend of Prometheus, improving the lot of Man but incurring the wrath of the gods, was just the kind of thing that appealed to Beethoven’s moral imagination.  The theme which forms the basis of the last movement of the Eroica Symphony is also the basis of his great Piano Variation, Op. 35 and of the Overture to his ballet The Creatures of Prometheus.

The two orchestral works receive very distinctive performances from Kent Nagano and his Montreal forces. He adopts some period practices, but of course with an orchestra of modern instruments and proportions. That leads to the first movement, in particular, of the Eroica sounding string-light and brass-heavy; with almost no vibrato the strings have a fierce tone. And Nagano tends to employ terraced dynamics, so that the ruggedness of Beethoven’s writing is emphasised.

The shock that this immense Symphony must have given his contemporaries is at least partly recreated here. In the first movement, especially, the sheer scale, combined with the ferocity of the climactic dissonant chords, makes a stunning impact. The beauty of much of the writing gets short shrift. The Funeral March, however, makes a shattering impression, and the last two movements are exciting and often fun.

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The ballet is rarely performed, yet here we have almost half an hour of delightful music, not the greatest Beethoven but very well worth having. All told this is a controversial but stimulating disc. Michael Tanner