Symphony No.1 in C, Op.21
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.36
Symphony No.8 in F, Op.93
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
Sir John Eliot Gardiner
Reviewed by: Alan Sanders
Reviewed: 30 November, 2013
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
In a slightly odd turn of phrase the programme told us that “This performance concludes a tour of Beethoven symphonies in Switzerland.” It was certainly clear that John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique were on familiar ground, and the readings were well bedded in. As one would expect from this group, the playing was superlative throughout, though occasionally in solo passages the great difficulties involved in playing the natural horn led to slips on the part of the two musicians. Perhaps we take it for granted nowadays that string sections in ‘period’ performances produce fine tone quality and impeccable intonation without the use of vibrato, but this demands exceptional skills that were certainly present on this occasion.
Sir John Eliot evidently sees Beethoven’s First Symphony as an expression of youthful energy, for at fast tempos throughout he drove the music very hard. In a way it was exciting, but also slightly heartless: one yearned for a little more expression, a slightly more yielding approach, especially in the second-movement Andante. Once more, beauty and warmth of phrase were lacking in the Second Symphony’s opening movement, but in the Larghetto Gardiner relaxed a little, and there were some graceful touches. The remaining movements went well, with bounding rhythms in the scherzo (with no let-up in the trio section), and an exhilarating finale.
Fast tempos were again evident in the Eighth Symphony, though the greater expressive power inherent in this much later work was acknowledged by the conductor through his slight relaxation of the reins: the music-making was still a little militaristic, but more affection was evident. An enthusiastic audience was rewarded by an encore of the Symphony’s finale.