The homogeneity that has crept into the sounds of international orchestras since World War II has largely been resisted in Philadelphia, where the orchestra still maintains something of the plush sonority instituted by Leopold Stokowski so long ago. While wonderful at times, this virtuoso smoothness can take the bite out of Beethoven. And it's a rawer, ripped Eroica Symphony -- like, say, that performed by Paavo Järvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie-Bremen at Lincoln Center this summer -- that often rings truest today.
Eschenbach and company's Eroica was the most dulcet imaginable. While off-putting at first, the sheer mellifluousness of the orchestra's sound could be mesmerizing. Where Järvi/Bremen hurtled and rasped, Eschenbach/Philadelphia danced and crooned. The crying motif midway in the first movement, strings against brass, was almost impossibly beautiful.
As for the Funeral March of the Eroica -- some of the most moving pages in all of Beethoven -- it seemed more like an old memory of a burial procession than the searing experience of one. It was stately and singing, with the purest horn lines; even the timpani sounded smooth. Yet the orchestra's concentration was such that Eschenbach's way had its own brand of calm intensity, seeming "right" in the moment.
One wonders if a hearing-enabled Beethoven, beamed to our day, would be irritated at being unable to recognize this suave vision of his Eroica, or if the Philadelphians would sound like the orchestra of his dreams.
Monday, December 12, 2005
Bradley Bambarger of the Newark (New Jersey) Star-Ledger writes of the Philadelphia Orchestra's recent visit to Carnegie Hall and compares its performance of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony with that of Paavo and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen at Lincoln Center last summer in this review (12/8/05), excerpted here: