Monday, May 2, 2011

5/2 An "Eroica" Round-Up

I thought it might be interesting to round up a few different interpretations of Beethoven's 3rd Symphony, the "Eroica".  The first movement of the Eroica is just about my favorite piece of music ever, so I probably have 7 or 8 versions on my iPod at all times.  It never gets old and I've never heard a "bad" version (which is different from a "badly-played" one) - though some are more interesting than others.  Here's my completely biased and subjective take on a few conductors' approaches to this incredible work which pretty much kicked over the classical table when it premiered...

The video below will take you through 9 excerpts from the Eroica 1st movement conducted by:
1. Fritz Reiner
2. Wilhelm Furtwangler
3. Arturo Toscanini
4. Hermann Scherchen
5. Jascha Horenstein
6. Jordi Savall
7. Herbert von Karajan
8. Pierre Monteux
9. Leonard Bernstein 

Linklist (80 min)

And here's a few of my observations (which may change tomorrow, who knows):

Fritz Reiner
Precise, but measured. Brass and timpani are quite prominent, the orchestra is tightly controlled.

Wilhelm Furtwangler
Slower than Reiner, more of a flowing and organic style, phrases seem to connect to each other more.

Arturo Toscanini
Tight, coiled. More of a motoring feel, at times with a sense of effortless dancing.

Hermann Scherchen
Probably one of the most expressive from a tempo stand point. The pulse seems to change from phrase to phrase - suddenly fast, then slow.

Jascha Horenstein
Opening chords are like massive fists -but then it gets balletic and has a floating quality - until the sforzandos strike which again land like massive slabs of sound.

Jordi Savall
HIP (Historically Informed Performance) - Light, wiry, very fast. Orchestration is very transparent (instruments very clear). Possibly closest to what B originally intended.

Herbert von Karajan
Velvety sound, virtually flawless articulation. Almost too good. Possibly bloodless at times, but still awe-inspiring.

Pierre Monteux
A heavier approach, yet the pulse is so solid it has an inevitability to it. Wide sweeping arcs with phrases which are not afraid to stand up and be counted.  Monteux of course conducted the famous first Stravinsky "Rite of Spring" with the riot and all that....

Leonard Bernstein
Powerful, emotive, Lenny feels it and wants us to feel it. Not as precise as Reiner, he doesn't mind a little glow around the accents.

Here's another video from which uses the "Funeral March" 2nd movement as a ruler for comparison featuring Giulini, Abbado and von Karajan).
1. Giulini and the Los Angeles Philharmonic 1979 (00:00 - 2:25)
2. Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic 2000 (2:26 - 4:36)
3. Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic late 1960s (4:37 - 6:52)

Beethoven Symphony No. 3 Giulini, Abbado, Karajan


  1. Great post. That Scherchen is a really fine performance, IMO.

  2. The Scherchen set is crazy-good. Woefully under-rated.

  3. I like the chords in the Reiner version. I don't think I've ever heard them with so much force behind them before. He didn't seem to emphasize and single note in the chord, but rather took it as a single entity. At first I thought it was going to be HORRIBLY slow, but it ended up working. I just can't stand it when this movement is done at slower tempos, like in the Furtwangler. Especially in the scale like ascensions; I yearn so badly for a quicker pace when I hear those portions.

    I would have to say my favorite version I've ever heard is the one done by Michael Tilson Thomas for "Keeping Score". I love his idea about the Gs in the violins being this sort of written out vibrato. I have two recordings of him doing Beethoven's 3rd and his 5th, and they are both fantastic. Has he ever done any other the others?

  4. I totally agree about the Tilson Keeping Score Eroica. I ripped the audio from the dvd and put it on my iPod :)
    I've heard on Erik K's blog that MTT has done the 7th - but there are not that many recordings...I'm hoping he will get around to a Beethoven cycle now that he's done Mahler..

  5. Hi, maybe you can be interested in my little site about comparative discography, in this occasion about the Eroica:

    Kindest regards