Day 5 – Beethoven Eroica (CD 5)

Today’s listening fare is Beethoven’s Eroica (Symphony in E-Flat, Op. 55).

Three years ago, I spent five and a half months (162 Days) listening to all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies, as interpreted by 17 different conductors (Herbert von Karajan appears twice) in 18 CD box sets.

So I’m relatively familiar with Symphony No. 3.

To my ears – untrained as they are – this sounds less vibrant than the previous four albums in the Fritz Reiner box set. In fact, it sounds a bit tinny, like I’m listening to it on an AM radio.

But maybe that’s just me.

I did read something interesting about this performance on page 224 in Kenneth Morgan’s book Fritz Reiner Maestro & Martinet:

Reiner modified the tempi more where movements included the development of complex symphonic arguments on a scale pointing toward more nineteenth-century romanticism than eighteenth-century order and decorum. In the first movement of Beethoven’s Eroica, for instance, Reiner adjusted the pulse to reflect the changing moods of the music. He slowed up slightly at bars 84-100, presumably regarding this as the beginning of the second group of the exposition (whereas the others have located this either at bar 45-57). He reduced the tempo again at the beginning of the development and again later after bar 330 and at measures 486-501. Yet despite these fluctuations in speed, nothing seems unnatural or forced, and forward momentum was maintained.

The Objective Stuff

This was recorded at Orchestra Hall, Chicago, on December 4, 1954. Reiner was 66. Beethoven composed this between the years 1802-1804, when he was between the ages of 32 and 34. It was first performed on April 7, 1805. This is another “New Orthophonic” recording on the RCA Victor Red Seal label.

The Subjective Stuff

Recording quality: 3
Overall musicianship: 5
CD booklet notes: 3
CD “album cover” information: 3
How does this make me feel: 3

Because of the way this was recorded (or mastered or remastered or…I don’t know), I didn’t feel involved with it. I felt like an outsider listening to an AM radio broadcast.

Musically, this is still first-rate. I can hear that much. But I’ve heard much better recordings of Beethoven’s 3rd. Oh, the first movement was pleasant enough. And the second was funeral as all get out. But it was the scherzo allegro vivace (movement III) that I found most appealing. It was brisk, lively, and nearly redeemed the whole performance for me. Okay, movement IV was also pretty engaging.

But, still, overall, I wasn’t drawn in by this performance. It’s certainly not the fault of Fritz Reiner, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, or Beethoven. Something just didn’t click with me.

And, you know what? It may just have been me. Maybe I was distracted today. Maybe my mood wasn’t stellar. Maybe I wasn’t listening closely enough, or too closely. Music is one of the most subjective experiences in the world.

My beef with the “original album art” approach is that when companies take an album that’s approximately 12″ x 12″ and reduce it to something 1/4 of its size, the words become impossible to read without a magnifying glass. Combine that with scant information in the CD book that comes with the box set and one (I being the aforementioned one) need to use the Internet – or books like Kenneth Morgan’s – to learn more about the recording.

But maybe that’s because what I like knowing – for example, who the musicians were, some background on the recording, etc. – isn’t always included with these recordings.

C.S. Lewis, the famous author of the Narnia chronicles, and the Space Trilogy (not to mention many classic Christian books, died the same year, within a week, of Fritz Reiner. Reiner was born in 1888 and died on November 15, 1963. C.S. Lewis was born in 1889 and died on November 22, 1963. I know that because I’ve been reading a lot of Lewis lately.

For whatever it’s worth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *