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Beethoven 7 Up
Erik North | San Gabriel, CA USA | 04/01/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It was Richard Wagner who dubbed it the "apotheosis of the dance." And while it can be said that Wagner was a man prone to hyperbole, the truth of the matter is that none of the other eight symphonies in Beethoven's canon is as propelled by motoric rhythms as the Seventh, which he composed in 1812 at a time when deafness had all but completed its iron grasp on the composer. And it is precisely that rhythmic intensity that makes the work stand out, for as with the "Eroica", it sees the composer conquering all the trials and tribulations of his life through sheer devotion to the art. Each of the four movements of the work is driven by rhythm, even the rather melancholic second movement Allegretto (which has recently found its way into the cinema via the apocalyptic sci-fi film KNOWING); and the vigorous finale, which is likely what provoked the Wagner quote, is as ferocious as anything Beethoven had done up to that time.
The imposing C minor "Coriolan Overture", which he composed in 1807, was not for Shakespeare's play of that name, but rather one on the same theme written by the German playwright Heinrich Collin. However, as is the case with the Fifth Symphony (also in the same key of C Minor), "Coriolan" is about the eternal struggle with fate, a struggle that Beethoven knew far better than most, as can be indicated by the sudden hammer chords that open this work.
The other work on this recording is the overture that Beethoven composed in 1800 as part of his music for the ballet "The Creatures Of Prometheus." The ballet itself had a successful premiere in Vienna in March 1801 and was in the ballet repertoire for a year or two, but now is remembered only through Beethoven's music, which contains the seed of a theme that would be the basis of the finale of the Eroica Symphony. The overture, in C Major, opens fairly imposingly and slow (in the Haydn symphonic tradition), then gets into a vigorous Allegro Molto. In complete recordings of the ballet, the overture doesn't so much end as it slides into the main ballet score; here, five sharp C Major chords conclude it definitively.
All three works are handled with exquisite taste and professionalism on this 1988 recording made by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under a conductor one doesn't necessarily associate with Beethoven, Andre Previn. Previn's bag is usually seen as being the 20th century Russian and English repertoire, with numerous American works being thrown in; but like any conductor worth his or her salt, he knows that Beethoven is a composer whose works must be surmounted at some point, both in the concert hall and on record. He does this with the utmost care and pacing, particularly in the tricky rhythmic drive that is the whole of the Seventh Symphony, and he gets a world-class performance out of the Royal Philharmonic, whose founder Sir Thomas Beecham ironically had little or no use for Ludwig van. This recording is well worth acquiring."