C0002. HERMANN SCHERCHEN Cond. Vienna State Opera Orch. & London Phil.; w.Magda Laszlo, Hilde Rossl-Majdan, Petre Munteanu & Richard Standen: The Nine Symphonies (Beethoven). (Germany) 5-Archipel 0201, recorded 1951-54. Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 4035122402018
ďThe exploration of Scherchenís classicist credentials continues apace. True, some of Scherchenís Beethoven symphonies have been doing the rounds for a while but this current release is the 1951-54 London/Vienna mono cycle and Archipel are now in on the act. This will give the conductorís admirers a great deal to mull over.
Iíve previously reviewed a Lugano rehearsal and live Beethoven Five from Scherchen - a document of some remarkable status in its revelation of Scherchenís attitude towards Beethoven and in its exploration of the conductorís priorities of rhythm and colour, amongst much else.
The thing that most people remark on when it comes to Scherchenís Beethoven is his speed. Some movements are, itís true, fast - though Scherchen was hardly the first conductor on record to startle with his approach to the thorny issue of Beethovenís metronome; Weingartner casts a long shadow here and even a conductor such as Albert Coates showed how there were some musicians prepared to take Mozart and Beethoven by the scruff of their necks, even on 78s in 1926. Not taking things for granted was of course a Scherchian trait and one that gave his music making its sometimes maverick strength, its sense of constant revaluation.
The Fifth is quick, insistent and truly symphonic in his hands. He takes a Toscanini-like tempo in the second movement and not a Weingartner one (Weingartner was considerably more pressing than Toscanini here). The Scherzo is relatively relaxed but he serves up the greatest muscle in the finale - which really does take off, though Scherchen always manages to integrate those crucial moments of relaxation and mould them in a cohesive way. In the Second Symphony one finds the Haydnesque affiliations are putty in Scherchenís hands - this is an affirmatory, life enhancing reading, close to the celebrated Beecham in terms of tempo relationships, and showing many of the virtues of Erich Kleiberís much earlier reading. Where he differs from both men is in the athleticism of his finale, which does tend to advance speed over charm, in the same way that his slow movement had moved closer to an Allegretto. But in the Scherzo and indeed throughout there is a delightful sense of buoyancy and liveliness. His finales did tend to drive, as the finale of the Fourth shows quite graphically. Earlier this persuasive reading sails closer to the Pfitzner-led disc of the Berlin complete symphonic cycle but in the finale Scherchen disappears into the stratosphere. Itís, notwithstanding issues of speed and tempo relation, a marvellously sinuous and convincing reading, strong on the power of projection. Not for Scherchen the even numbered lyricism of this Fourth; itís confrontational at moments, with subtleties of shading and accelerandos (try the slow movement) that are full of Scherchian insight and provocative wisdom. The orchestral playing is also several notches above the Vienna sessions - the London Philharmonic on very fine form. The Eighth is one of the very best readings in the cycle. He seems always to have taken it fast. Right from the first bars we feel the anticipation, the rhythmic control that prepares one for the controlled drama Scherchen unleashes. And yet the Allegretto scherzando is chock full of wit and warmth and a sense of relaxation and in the Minuet he relishes the pomposo aspect, and the wind chording. Itís a rare conductor who can explore and unfold, at a relatively swift tempo, those oases of calm and relaxation at the heart of this movement. The finale is suitably galvanic, driven to the nth degree and as with the rest of the performance very close to the metronome markings.
His First Symphony, to go back to the beginning of the cycle, opens with a pretty measured Adagio molto and in fact this opening symphony reveals Scherchen in relatively expansive mood all round though he was seemingly consistent in his attitude here. The big surprise I suppose is his sedate attitude to the finale, an unusual occurrence for him. From the First to the Ninth. This is an authoritative, brisk and demystifying reading; some parts are almost impatiently harried though Scherchenís characteristically decisive tempi are part and parcel of his linear approach to these works. He favours clarity of voicings in the opening paragraphs to Furtwšnglerian evolutionary power and whilst the second movement is not objectively fast it is sharply contoured and etched.
Always provocative, invariably affirmatory, Scherchen always has things to say about the core repertory even as he strove to present contemporary works with such assiduous and intelligent dedication. He is at his most exciting and revealing in the Second, Fourth and Eighth Symphonies but admirers will find almost everything worthy of interest.Ē
- Jonathan Woolf, musicweb-international