OAE Beethoven Cycle – 2: Symphonies 2 & 3/Iván Fischer

Symphony No.2 in D, Op.36
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Iván Fischer

Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 4 March, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Iván Fischer. Photograph: Budapest Festival OrchestraThe second concert in the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s Beethoven symphony cycle found Iván Fischer taking over the reins for the Second and the ‘Eroica’ symphonies. Fischer’s way couldn’t have been more at odds with the speed merchants of ‘period’ performance with tempos throughout matching or exceeding those of his ‘big band’ counterparts.

Symphony No.2 is one of the composer’s most upbeat symphonies in spite of the gloomy circumstances surrounding its composition, Beethoven’s encroaching deafness signalling one of the bleakest periods of his life. Fischer brought out this despair in a reading of unusually dark hues with little of the warmth others bring to this score. The slow introduction was carried off with a real sense of purpose and tight ensemble; the dramatic outburst introduction giving the clearest hint of what was to follow in the Ninth Symphony. There was little sense of joy though in the Larghetto. The mellow, smiling violins which play the Schubert-like melodies sounded tense and monochromatic here, lending an air of sorrow, even quiet desperation. Although more light was shone into the scherzo, there was little to lighten the mood in the finale althoughFischer’s strongly driven approach and incisively accented rhythms were engaging.

After this weighty account of the Second, the ‘Eroica’ felt more an evolutionary work rather than a revolutionary one. With spacious tempos Fischer steered a heavy course through the first two movements. For all the forward thrust and tension generated towards the end of the development section it was hard to escape the feeling of a performance short on heroic inspiration. The ‘Funeral March’ got bogged down, not so much as a result of tempo but because of the lack of a steady rhythmic pulse, lessening the eventual disintegration at the end of the coda. The OAE’s wind section, delightful in the earlier symphony, was subject here to a couple of unfortunate slips. The scherzo was better with tighter ensemble and fleeter of foot. Fischer seemed to have recovered his sense of pacing but it was still somewhat grounded, a feeling not entirely dispelled in the finale, where at least some sort of joyous resolution was reached.

  • Iván Fischer conducts the OAE in symphonies 1, 8 & 5 on Wednesday 10 March, Queen Elizabeth Hall, at 7.30 p.m.
  • OAE

  • Southbank Centre

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