The impact this music originally had cant be replicated today. Historically aware renditions go some of the way, of course, but the greatest art is a constant and becomes renewable to successive generations. To return this music to its time although do we need to? and perhaps Im being pedantic, then the conductor would need to observe all repeats (Maazel took none save in the Eroicas scherzo) and respect niceties of tempo and timbre to echo those of nearly 200 years ago. Not surprisingly, Maazel gave the Eroica with the Philharmonias full strings and with quadruple woodwind. Even with modern instruments, authenticity can be approximated (cf. Harnoncourt). Maazel makes music for today. Here were two old and trusted symphonic friends, immaculately suited and booted in todays fashion for a good night out with their contemporaries us.
Lest my intro be thought critical, I simply state Maazels uninfluenced stance, and that, in fact, he led impressive accounts of both works musical and satisfying. Indeed, the Eroica might be thought understated, not outspoken or radical enough, the Marche funèbre a blueprint rather than the real thing. The opening movement, lyrical and spacious, but with enough momentum to acknowledge the fast metronome mark, was structurally melded as a complete experience, the music absorbed and put back as a work of perfection. With playing both lithe and refined, meticulously balanced, something more rough-hewn might have revealed more of Beethovens consciousness. When Maazel let the horns have their heads at the marchs climax and the finales resplendent summation (the latter included the bumper and unwritten fourth horn) it seemed too much given the smooth parameters of elsewhere; so too the occasional phrasal diversion when Maazel otherwise was happy to let the symphony play itself. The funeral procession lacked gravitas nobody we knew and Maazels relatively swift pacing (15 minutes) nodded towards Beethovens timing. And a nod also to the horn threesome for a truly exceptional traversal of the trio, to Gordon Hunts oboe solos and Kenneth Smiths flute-fancy in the finale.
Maazel was in fluent form technique, memory and physical fitness indivisible and the Philharmonias culture and long relationship with him prompted musicianship not always forthcoming. Poetic ebb and flow lined the Fantastique through its reveries, passions and country scene, the latter the highlight of the concert, the off-stage oboe maybe too distant albeit opening up vistas and adding poignancy to the non-reply that becomes thunder. The Un bal waltz was played straight, its so easy to maul it, and Maazel opted for the ad lib cornet part. For me, The March to the Scaffold was too fast by miles, if brilliantly done; Berliozs very measured metronome should be trusted here (few conductors do) as should his repeat mark (which few conductors take; yet its unusual enough to be mandatory). Maazel appreciated the sensationalism of the Witches Sabbath if not necessarily its innovation. If the doom-laden bell could have been more so, and far off placement lost its peal in the melee, the charge to the finishing post was undoubtedly thrilling.
This was in many ways a signal evening for the Philharmonia Orchestra and Lorin Maazel. He presented us with music we know, as we know it, and did so in fastidious terms in harmony with the Philharmonias excellence and infinite resource.
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