Monday, March 24, 2008

Beethoven was always hip

Bad title, I know, but this Ionarts piece about a new HIP-informed version of Beethoven's 3rd forced my hand.

I thought that I would give a plug for my favorite HIP Beethoven recording: Jordi Savall's 1997 3rd. Good luck finding it, as it seems to have disappeared in the ten or so years since its release. Writing in Gramophone, Richard Osborne had this to say,
There is a real sense of burgeoning excitement at the start of Savall’s performance; and the sound of the orchestra really does conjure up the sense of one being transported back to some dusky Viennese concert room c1805 where the musicians are as dangerous a crew as the militias roaming the mud-filled streets outside. Yet as the musical arguments begin to multiply and deepen, so the performance gets more garbled. For all Savall’s skill in moulding and modifying the pulse, there’s a jauntiness about parts of the first movement development section which muddles and trivializes the music.
He went on to note,
Again, in the Marcia funebre, the Savall performance is astonishing for the mood it conjures. The drum (calf skin head, hard sticks) is fierce and seductive, an instrument of war that suggests also the soft thud of death. Savall’s brass are similarly remarkable, at once brazen and mellow-sounding. The horn section alone – Thomas Muller, Raul Diaz and Javier Bonet – deserves an award for the way the players colour and characterize this astonishing music.
Osborne noted that the tempi for Savall's recording are unconventional. Yes, they are. Very much so. It is one of those things, having begun my Beethoven investigations with Furtwängler, that I don't really mind. I do, however, take issue with the 'jauntiness' claim. There is a certain swagger in Savall's interpretation, but never where I find it inappropriate.

I haven't heard Manze's version, but I would like to point out that Savall's recording - if you're lucky enough to find a copy - provides an excellent example of the HIP approach on historical instruments. None of this mealy-mouthed hybridization.


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