Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3 "Eroica" (SACD review)

Philippe Herreweghe, Royal Flemish Philharmonic. PentaTone Classics PTC 5186 313.

It's doubtful that too many people will be buying this album exclusively to hear Beethoven's First Symphony. But if they do, they'll be getting one of the best performances of the work I've ever heard committed to disc. Philippe Herreweghe is no stranger to period interpretations, and he applies his knowledge of and experience with those practices to this modern-instruments version with the Royal Flemish Philharmonic. The First Symphony performance is vigorous and joyous, with only the second movement Andante cantabile taken at a pace that might seem a tad too zippy for the rest of the piece.

No, it's the Beethoven Third, the "Eroica," that most people will probably be interested in, and here, too, Herreweghe's reading will not disappoint. It's one of the most satisfying versions around, filling a void between the slower, grander, more traditional approaches of Klemperer, Bohm, Barbirolli, Jochum, and other old-timers and the brisker renditions of people like Norrington and Zinman. Herreweghe makes sure you know this is a groundbreaking piece of music, while at the same time invests it with a playful enthusiasm that will have your blood racing and your toes tapping. Even the usually staid Funeral March comes off with a charming pizzazz, the Scherzo with verve, and the Finale variations with a delightful vivacity.

PentaTone's sound for this 2007 recording is spacious and dynamic, not unusual given that they made it in Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, home to so many wonderfully airy, ambient recordings of the past. You won't find any ultimate transparency here, but you will find the sound of a real orchestra heard from a moderate distance, with plenty of breadth, depth, and resonant bloom. What's more, it's a hybrid SACD, so if you have the ability to play it back in multichannel, that will undoubtedly be a plus as well. I played it in regular two-channel stereo and in SACD stereo and found little sonic difference between the two. Both are excellent.


1 comment:

  1. sure, i will definitely listen to the third Beethoven. keep posting


John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa