WORKS: Symphony No. 3 in E flat (Eroica); Symphony No. 8 in B minor (Unfinished)
PERFORMER: The Met Orchestra/James Levine
CATALOGUE NO: 439 862-2 DDD
The opening chords of the Eroica strike like thunderbolts, but the best playing is in the finale, where one feels the players have been released from opera pit to concert hall, revealing a freshness which, together with the skill of the principal flute, surmounts all technical problems. In the first movement Levine neither ignores Beethoven’s fast tempo nor underplays sforzando accents. He never understates dynamics, which are played with Brahmsian intensity, and the climax in the Adagio thrills. The contrapuntal section of this Funeral March recalls Levine’s Mahler, whose own connection with the Met orchestra included a performance of Tristan in 1910 which that most self-critical of composer/conductors thought his best.
Levine takes Beethoven’s metronome mark to heart in the Scherzo, which fairly races along, the three horns impressing in the trio. His Eroica is an operatic view of a dramatic work, if self-indulgent in places. The sound is spacious, too much so at sudden dynamic changes, and often produces a mushy quality. Sudden fortissimos are often preceded by a creaking podium as downbeat is launched, removing any element of surprise.
This also happens in the silent bars of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Though clearly devoted to the work, why does Levine perpetuate its long-discredited editorial errors? That aside, there is wonderful playing from solo oboe and clarinet; indeed the disc does the whole orchestra enormous credit. Christopher Fifield