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Thread: A Dog

  1. #1
    Junior Member Todd's Avatar
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    Default A Dog

    What with Herman Scherchen’s Haydn box set now available, I figured I’d better get to know at least one of his other recordings before buying the box. I opted for his recordings of Beethoven’s Third and Sixth on Westminster. Oops.

    Alright, so I’d heard his Mahler First at the CD shop one day and found it oddly directed and somewhat confused. But that was Mahler, I reasoned; Beethoven is surely a different matter. It’s almost imperative for conductors to be good at ol’ Ludwig van, and was even more crucial decades ago. Well, on the evidence of this disc, Scherchen was not proficient in Beethoven. In fact he couldn’t conduct Beethoven to save his life.

    The Eroica is simply awful. Scherchen seems to confuse speed with drama and excitement. The opening movement is way too fast. He does not allow the music and drama to unfold; rather, he hurries from one section to another, presenting each idea as a sort of episode. Indeed, the work sounds episodic throughout; the musical line is lost. The second movement actually fares worse. There’s nothing even remotely funereal about it. The absolute lack of structural coherence is disconcerting. Things improve from awful to just plain bad in the third movement, which is the highlight, before slipping back to awful. The finale is too hurried, each variation breathlessly and incoherently leading to the next. Somehow, though I thought it impossible, Scherchen actually made me wish the Eroica were shorter. And he leads a 44-minute version! In stark contrast, I relistened to Giulini’s LAPO Eroica a couple of weeks ago, and even at 57 minutes it seemed shorter than this, and altogether superior. No, Scherchen’s is no heroic symphony inspired by Napoleon, but is rather a fitful, disjointed mess that appears to celebrate Napoleon’s ADD plagued third cousin, Fredo the olive oil maker.

    The Sixth does fare better: it’s merely really bad. Again, it’s just too damned fast. The opening is so fast and disjointed that I was not even sure I was listening to the Pastorale. When the storm arrives it sounds more like a modernist, orchestral cacophony than the storm. The finale is musically acceptable, but just barely. Both of these are, by some distance, the worst versions of these works I have heard.

    Contributing to the problem throughout is mediocre orchestral playing. Perhaps the Vienna State Opera Orchestra was not fully versed in what Scherchen wanted, or perhaps they were hungover, or perhaps they did not care, but from open to close I hear a disjointed orchestra with blunders aplenty. What the hell happens at 10’58” in movement two? Is that a bad edit, or does the Timpani player drop his mallet? I could forgive such a problem if it were the only one. It’s not.

    Perhaps I miss the point. After all, wasn’t Scherchen being adventurous, visionary even, by adopting such fast tempi? I mean Beethoven’s metronome markings are rarely followed and these were “pioneering” attempts to restore the symphonies to their proper proportions. That’s just so much hogwash. I’m the first to admit that I’m a traditionalist when it comes to LvB’s symphonies. Give me Furtwangler, Klemperer, Bohm, or Giulini for these works any day. But I do own a period symphony cycle – Christopher Hogwood’s excellent 1980s set – and find it quite satisfying. His tempi are faster than traditional recordings, but he has musical talent and can pull it off. Scherchen fails. I doubt I’ll be buying that Haydn box unless I read at least a half-dozen highly laudatory reviews. This Beethoven disc will most likely be heading to the resale shop. Do avoid it if you have not heard it.
    ---



    "The universe is change, life is opinion." Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

  2. #2
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    Todd

    I agree with you regarding Scherchen's lectures of Beethoven (the Haydn's are not better, without no real articulation and global view).
    But I think he gave a very personal and fascinating lecture of Mahler's 7th Symphony. Not as deeply involved as Bernstein with the New York Philarmonic, and very, very far from Solti's perfection in his recording with the Chicago Orchestra.
    But it is a very original view of the 7th Symphony and, perhaps, the first to be recorded.

  3. #3
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    Todd,
    Well, that is a disappointment! I had heard a few things about Scherchen being a pioneer in modern Beethoven performance, and had almost decided to take the step and give it a try. Glad I didn't now, I have trouble tolerating Beethoven being butchered...
    Last edited by Gurn Blanston; Aug-23-2005 at 01:26.
    Regards,
    Gurn


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    That's my opinion, I may be wrong.
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    Junior Member DavidW's Avatar
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    Gurn I think you'd like it, you're a HIPpie dude! Scherchen set the standards for zippy Beethoven before the HIPsters. Scherchen plays it really, really fast. So fast that he gets through both the 3rd and 6th in just one cd! Other people really like the recording like me and Steve M, so hey it's cheap give it a try anyway.

  5. #5
    Junior Member Todd's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidW
    Gurn I think you'd like it, you're a HIPpie dude! Scherchen set the standards for zippy Beethoven before the HIPsters.


    There's a difference between HIP and sloppy 'n' choppy.
    ---



    "The universe is change, life is opinion." Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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    Junior Member DavidW's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Todd
    There's a difference between HIP and sloppy 'n' choppy.
    Not according to Norrington.

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