Classical music fans everywhere are getting edgy as, more and more, historically informed performance (HIP) specialists eye masterpieces of the 18th and even 19th centuries for the early music treatment. Andrew Manze and Richard Egarr's last recording featured Schubert violin sonatas, and the effect of the fortepiano and reconditioned 18th-century violin in live performance was unforgettable. Manze is in the midst of a career shift, as he sets aside some of his work as a violinist, with the English Concert and the Academy of Ancient Music and as a soloist, to take up the post of Chief Conductor of the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra. His first recording with the group, a mid-sized orchestra with a chamber-sized history, is a re-examination of the third symphony of Beethoven, a project labeled the "Eroica Effect."
Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica"), Helsingborg SO, A. Manze
(released March 11, 2008)
Harmonia Mundi HMU 807470
Anyone who has studied the score of the Eroica symphony can recognize any number of distortions frequently taken by conductors. These are accretions that have been deposited like silt on top of the music, because it has been performed and recorded so frequently. Manze does not approach the score mechanically or slavishly, but he does try to hew to it much more closely than most conductors. His tempo choices are not strikingly different from other recordings, but the pacing is kept mostly consistent, leading to a lean, but not mean, total timing of 50:24.
While the Helsingborg Symphony is not playing on historical instruments, Manze does control the texture in ways that allow unfamiliar colors to shimmer in the orchestral fabric, again through a careful observation of the dynamic and articulation markings of the score. The timpani have a brilliant bite in places, and those low second bassoon notes I never noticed before (in the opening section of the fourth movement) sound much more prominent. The undermining of assumptions about the Eroica continues in the works selected to accompany the symphony. Most classical music fans would already know that Beethoven had used the theme of the symphony's last movement earlier in the last movement of his ballet The Creatures of Prometheus, op. 43. In fact, the melody had already appeared in an even less heroic guise, as the seventh in a set of twelve Contredances, WoO 14. Both works round out this satisfying CD (but not the more obviously related "Eroica" Variations, op. 35, for fortepiano).
Next weekend, Andrew Manze will lead the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra in a concert (March 30, 7 pm), at the George Mason University Center for the Arts. Tickets, from $25 to $50, remain available. The program, combining the Eroica Symphony with three overtures from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, should be worth a trip out to Fairfax.
Andrew Manze, The Eroica Effect, Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra