In the latest instalment of the Decca Ansermet Legacy, Decca Eloquence introduces the Swiss conductor’s recordings of Beethoven – his symphony cycle, overtures and the rare Weingartner arrangement of the Grosse Fuge. They are issued as three 2CD sets.
François Hudry, the supreme commentator on the art of Ernest Ansermet writes, “the new vision he brought to the Beethoven symphonies was astonishing. Perhaps he was too early in what he did, in his respect for the text and in his weeding out of all the Romantic touches and subjectivity which held sway at the time. Without recourse to so-called ‘authentic’ instruments, Ansermet was trying to return to the composer’s intentions, as given in the score, avoiding the imposition of any responses of his own on the audience.”
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, so familiar today that one risks taking it for granted, sounds almost as if it were composed in one sitting. The composer is supposed to have described the famous four notes that open the symphony as ‘fate knocking at the door’. Even though they have been endlessly appropriated and parodied by popular culture, their power and fascination remain undiminished after more than two centuries. Even twenty years after its premiere when the symphony was performed in Paris, French composer Jean-François Le Sueur claimed to be so disoriented that he could not find his head when he tried to put on his hat!
Ansermet’s ‘Pastoral’ seems to depict the feelings of a sympathetic visitor to the country, not the experiences of an actual country-dweller. Warm, hazy textures and an unerring sense of line are its hallmarks and in the finale he lets the melody soar, freely and lightly, into the evening sky.
His Seventh is less of an orgiastic romp than it is in other hands and Ansermet conducts it as if it were an extension of the ‘Pastoral’. The orchestral sonorities are given mass but inner voices are not obscured.
Ansermet’s reading of the Eighth is as monumental as that of the ‘bigger’ trio of symphonies preceding it; in no way is it to be treated as a ‘lesser’ work than its bedfellows.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67
Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 ‘Pastorale’
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92
Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93
Egmont Overture, Op. 84
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande