3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Mark E. Stenroos
- Published on Amazon.com
These are willful interpretations that - IMHO - say a lot about Christian Thielemann and, occasionally, something important about Ludwig van Beethoven as well.
The performances of these early symphonies themselves are episodic, to put it kindly. It's one thing to fail to successfully link the sections of a given symphonic movement together into a whole, thereby unwittingly allowing us hear the seams in a work. It's quite another thing to create seams where none previously existed. This is a real debit in Thielemann's overall approach to the earlier works, IMO, especially as his performances of the later symphonies reflect a more traditional and moderate (read: successful) approach to Beethoven.
In the plus column, Thielemann observes every repeat in every symphony, and the Vienna Philharmonic sounds wonderful throughout.
On to the works themselves:
Thielemann has no love and carries no brief for Symphonies 1 & 2. I get the feeling that CT would have been fine recording only Symphonies 3 - 9 were that an option. Sym I/iii is raced through with little regard for nuance of any sort. Ensemble problems abound, mostly on the small scale, but they are there.
The overt classicism of the two early symphonies holds no enchantment for Maestro Thielemann. Fast movements are uncomfortably fast, with the slow movements being self-consciously slow. I'm not hearing any great interpretive insights in either symphony. Thielemann seems more concerned with doing a physical impersonation of the "relaxed energy" conducting styles of Carlos Keliber and Wilhelm Furtwängler than attending to what's going on right in front of him. Unfortunately for the listener, Thielemann's relaxation often verges on the indifferent. I wonder if, perhaps, Thielemann will revisit these works later in his career and find more in them than he does at this point in time.
The Eroica is the most successful performance out of the first 3 symphonies. I'm surprised Theilemann didn't double the winds in this symphony. It would have helped the balances in the tutti sections. The first movement suffers from Thielemann pulling the tempos around for no apparent reason other than that the orchestra will follow him. The second movement has suitable gravitas: I felt that the placement of the triplet pick ups in the double basses weren't always placed accurately. The orchestral sound gets a bit rough edged in the louder sections of this symphony. The third movement is highly energetic, with the French horns shining in their exposed calls.
In the Eroica finale, Thielemann provides an extended - and meaningless - unwritten pause before the oboe solo at the Poco andante (bar 348). The camera lingers on Thielemann as he freezes and extends this silence well beyond normal limits. It's a real, "look at me! I'm Christian Thielemann!" moment. You might think that your BD player has suddenly frozen up.
The oboe solo is then launched...and we get more extended visuals of Thielemann conducting. The camera then cuts away to the horns, who are providing supporting harmony for the oboist. The camera next cuts to the clarinet, back to the horns, etc. Who we don't catch a glimpse of is the effing solo oboist! At least not until the very end of the solo, when the camera gives a brief shot of his hands positioned on his horn (without showing his face).
I have to ask: why wouldn't you show the oboist during this solo? Is that too common an idea for this video? Are we making a statement by playing against expectations? I'd like to know.
Throughout these recordings (Symphonies 1 - 3), Thielemann seems particularly unconcerned about maintaining energy through the ends of phrases when those phrases encompass the "fall" that attends the natural rise and fall of a musical line. Oh, he's fine on the "rise" part, where energy is supplied in abundance. But when the musical line falls, the energy underneath it can sag incredibly. It's as if CT's thoughts are focussed on the "next point of interest" for him, a point that perhaps lies 8 to 12 bars in the future. For a person who thinks he's emulating Furtwängler, it's disappointing to hear the results of a conductor NOT being in the moment, at least when that moment represents the fall of a musical line. It's one thing to have a performance going on in your head that isn't being reflected by the group you're leading. It's quite another thing when the group you're leading is the Vienna Philharmonic, an orchestra whose pedigree in Beethoven performance SHOULD serve to engage even a conductor who has been leading Beethoven performances for decades. Thielemann? Not so much.
Not surprisingly, CT has no problems achieving an overly inflected diminuendo when it is indicated in the score. Too bad he doesn't avoid the energy sag elsewhere, ie: where a diminuendo occurs as the result of the musical line, where the composer didn't feel the need to mark a diminuendo because one doesn't mark those things that musicians sort of "get" - hors concours - because they're musicians.
Lest you think I'm singling out CT for such criticism, this problem seems to afflict many of today's conductors. It's more glaring when set against the work of the old-school conductors like Karajan, Walter, Szell and Bernstein, who paid attention and took care of such things as part of their normal modus operandi.
Finally, it bears mentioning that Thielemann has a penchant for speeding up and slowing down at cadential points for no apparent reason other than the fact that the music has reached such a point. These gestures add nothing to the music. In fact, they serve only to turn the spotlight onto CT in a "look what I can do/control" way.
Sound on the disc is excellent, as is the HD picture quality.