Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Beethoven - Overtures - Harnoncourt, Chamber Orch of Europe

Beethoven - Overtures - Harnoncourt, Chamber Orch of Europe
Orchestral | Eac, flac, cue | log, scans | 1 CD, 308 MB
October 15, 1996 | Teldec | RS

Harnoncourt's Beethoven overtures are highly eventful affairs that will have your critical faculties working overtime. Surprises emerge virtually by the bar. For example, the orchestral sonority is 'heated' not by the strings (as is so often the case with modern orchestras), but by the woodwind section. Here, the COE's string tone is sinewy and chaste (violin desks are divided left and right), with lightly brushed bowing and agile phrasing, while the woodwinds sound far mellower than on most rival discs. Harnoncourt's preference for limpid, baleful woodwind phrasing is familiar from his recordings of baroque music and the option works well in this context. So does the cut and thrust of a decidedly period-sounding brass section, and the brittle rap of timpani; in fact, the overall soundpicture is so novel and exciting that you could be forgiven for suspecting that a standardized interpretative 'grid' had been used in all cases. However, attentive listening proves otherwise.
Coriolan features a mobile though never overprominent cello line, the coda more suggesting recollected tragedy than the torture of Coriolan's plight. Prometheus opens to thunderclap chords, then busies along excitedly with much animated banter between woodwinds. Harnoncourt resists the temptation to turn this overture into a facile mote perpetuo (the work's torso is marked Allegro molto con brio) and he supplements the main piece with a tensile rendition of the ballet's opening "La tempesta". Die RoMen von Athen is neon-lit and keenly attenuated and the Fidelio 'foursome' — the opera's overture plus the three Leonores — is delivered with a dramatic impetus that occasionally borders on abruptness. Fidelio itself features a majestic introduction and a leisurely, open-plan Allegro where individual voices take the lead and where, at 540", the opening motive gallops back with tremendous vigour. Leonore No. 1 goes with a swing, although I thought the pauses at 411" and .beyond rather overdone. The introduction to Leonore No. 2 suggests intimations of Berlioz (something that had never occurred to me before: for proof, begin at, say, 225") and I was very impressed by the way Harnoncourt tiers the accumulating woodwind lines, from 504". A natural ebb and flow is common to both of these 'bigger' Leonore overtures; both feature a first-rate off-stage trumpet, and both have fiery codas (Leonore No. 3's 'last blast' climaxes with colossal power). My one reservation, however is that in each piece the swirling string figurations that adorn pivotal dramatic chords (3'17" in No. 2; 244" in No. 3) are insufficiently clear. The disc ends with a fairly forceful Egmont overture.--
Gramophone Editor's choice

CD Content

1. Coriolan Overture, Op. 62n
2. Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus, ballet, Op. 43: Overture
3. Ruins of Athens, incidental music, Op. 113: Overture Listen
4. Fidelio, overture, Op. 72c
5. Leonore Overture No. 1 in C major, Op. 138
6. Leonore Overture No. 2 in C major, Op. 72a
7. Leonore Overture No. 3 in C major, Op. 72b
8. Egmont, incidental music, Op. 84: Overture



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