LABELS: Budapest Music Center
WORKS: Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Gothenburg SO, Ensemble Modern/Peter Eötvös
CATALOGUE NO: BMC CD 063 (distr. www.bmc.hu)
Listen hard to the string sound in Peter Eötvös’s Beethoven Fifth and you might find yourself becoming increasingly confused. How many strings are playing? Where exactly is the microphone? Answer: it’s a very small string section, subtly amplified. Modern electroacoustic techniques have, says Eötvös, made large string sections unnecessary. From the result I’d say that may be possible one day, but we haven’t got there yet. Sometimes the string sound in the Beethoven is rich and round enough, but in other places solo instruments stick out weirdly like a trumpet in a piano trio. A pity, because Eötvös’s Beethoven is clearly far from routine. He has a way of differentiating textures and homing in on short phrases that convinces without sounding remotely like ersatz ‘period’ playing. He presents a strong, urgent, well-argued Fifth Symphony, including – and vindicating – the long scherzo-trio repeat (the longer scherzo gives the finale’s first theme something solid to struggle against). It certainly doesn’t displace the classic Carlos Kleiber version – though if someone could give us a Fifth with Kleiber’s fire plus the long third movement repeat that would be just about ideal.
As for Eötvös’s tribute to Pierre Boulez, zeroPoints, this is a kind of contemporary music I find especially frustrating: beautifully wrought, dazzlingly scored, but offering only cerebral delights. As with many of Boulez’s own works, it’s hard to understand how so much refined calculation could have resulted in something that feels so flimsy and two-dimensional. It’s beautifully played, though (with a real full string section this time), with magnificent recorded sound. Stephen Johnson