Gerald Barry • Beethoven
Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 7-9; Gerald Barry: The Eternal Recurrence
Britten Sinfonia/Thomas Adès
Signum Classics SIGCD 659 139:07 mins (2 discs)
Thomas Adès intriguingly follows his reading of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with an ode to joy by Gerald Barry – a characteristically energetic and dazzling piece called The Eternal Recurrence that sets words not by Schiller, but by Nietzsche in English translation. The lines Barry has chosen in the latter part of his piece speak of the depths of the world’s woes, but it’s no use expecting the sense of awe and mystery with which Mahler set the same passage in his Third Symphony: in Barry’s world in general, music and text don’t necessarily inhabit the same spheres. The Britten Sinfonia rises brilliantly to the challenges of the cruelly exposed wind and brass writing of Barry’s work. And Jennifer France (she sang Alice in Barry’s Lewis Carroll opera, which Adès conducted at Covent Garden) gives a spectacular account of the relentlessly high-flying solo soprano part.
While the dry and bright acoustics of the Barbican are perfectly well suited to the brittle sound of Barry’s piece, they’re rather less appropriate when it comes to Beethoven’s symphonies. The recording engineers have done what they could, but one misses a real sense of mystery at the start of the Ninth, or an adequate feeling of glowing warmth in its slow movement.
Adès’s tempos are generally on the brisk side – hair-raisingly so, in particular, in the great finale of the Eighth Symphony – and while the results are often thrilling, this is a crowded field, and there are other recordings that may well linger longer in the memory.