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CD Review

Ludwig van Beethoven

  • Symphony #3 "Eroica"
  • Overture "Leonore" #1
  • Overture "Leonore" #2
Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
EMI Great Recordings of the Century 67741
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"What… can be more absurd than 'allegro', which once and for all, means 'cheerful' How far removed we often are from this meaning!"
~ Beethoven: 1822 as quoted in Composers on Music, ed. Sam Morgenstein c. 1956.

Cheerful. Cheerful. The first movement of the "Eroica" is allegro con brio. In some way or another Beethoven probably had the notion of cheerful in mind as he composed that first movement. So, I sat down and listened carefully to it in this recording. And there it was! There is an element of celebration in the hero's stance. Einstein said that once you become aware, nothing is ever the same. Try it out for yourself and listen for cheerful. It is there.

I usually try to place my opinions in context. In this case the context must be with Klemperer's later recording of the Symphony #3 with the same orchestra, in stereo, and on the same label (EMI 66793). If you are not familiar with it, many critics consider it one of the finest and perhaps THe finest. In fact when I reviewed that recording I wrote, "Klemperer's recording is among the best ever. The 1978 issue of the Penguin Guide to Compact Discs listed it as a first choice. I can concur with that assessment. It has a power, a monumental aspect and an organic whole. Everything is right. The sound… is superb. There is air around the music and a depth of perspective. I highly recommend it to anyone." So it goes.

The first thing I noticed when turning to that recording was that it is a very, very different interpretation. It is slower but not slack. There is tension but none of the joy Beethoven refers to in an allegro. Instead there is an Olympian, Promethean stature to the music, less human and more godly. Maybe you like that and it is an equally valid interpretation. Since becoming aware of Beethoven's comment I will never hear this movement, or the symphony as a whole, the same however. If pressed to tell you which I prefer I would say that I want to hear the joy of the hero in the midst of his triumph over adversity. On the other hand that would be if pressed. When we come to the Funeral March matters are somewhat complex. I get a greater sense of tragedy in the stereo recording than this one. It is the Funeral March of a great man. That movement in this recording is good but not as powerful.

While some writers have lauded the later recording others have panned it as 'dull' or 'less good'. Jesus said, 'my Father's house has many rooms.' The "Eroica" is a mansion of many rooms.

Now the only problem is that I have to go back and listen to every other recording I have of Beethoven's 3rd and hear if they capture the "cheerfulness".

Oh, yeah, the Lenore's are good but no one would buy the disc just for that. They are a lagniappe.

Copyright © 2003, Robert Stumpf II