BEETHOVEN | Symphony No 7
Performed by whom, you might ask? Good question. First I did back-to-back movement-by-movement auditions of John Eliot Gardiner and Christopher Hogwood, first playing Gardiner's take on each movement and then Hogwood's. Kind of an interesting experience having everything repeated. Gardiner's performance is with a bigger band in much more "present" sound, but I found that, when I cranked the volume up for Hogwood, it did indeed reveal a more individual, colorfully period-instrument sound. The problem was that I also felt in Hogwood as if there was a rather rustic, rough-and-ready touch: the orchestral details that get highlighted often seem to be accidental, as if the horn player just spontaneously decided to pipe up or the oboes just felt like getting their spunk on for a minute. Gardiner's orchestra is a polished, professional group, no doubt about it. But I think my previous inclination toward Gardiner was not really a product of his life-force really so much as the fact that the recording doesn't require a volume jolt.
Now, however, I've put on a third recording of the Seventh. It is one I have championed here before, but since have gone several months without listening to it. The big question: was it anything as good as I remembered?
The answer is, unequivocally, yes. Thomas Dausgaard's recording with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra is a "HIP Hybrid" - olden stylings on modern instruments. And it is stunning. The funny thing about this recording is that after I listened to it once, back in March, it instantly adopted a mythical status in my brain. Since then I have returned each time with some skepticism, as if it can't be so, or I must have just been in a particular mood. Why the doubt? Not sure. This listen has been just as riveting as the prior ones: music-making that totally bankrupts my ability to throw adjectives at it. It is big, bold, driven, powerful, propulsive, intimate, chamber-like, immediate, it's in my room here with me; it's charming, stern, eternal, mortal, alive, fantastical, earthy, and, if I can use the word again, mythical. That's a soup of contradictions. But this performance is no soup of contradictions.
When I first posted about it here, I used a phrase that may have hinted at what I'm trying and failing spectacularly to say. Here it is: listening to this Dausgaard recording of the Beethoven Seventh, I really feel not merely as if I am listening to this music for the first time - but as if it is being played for the first time.
The timpani is pounding out the big drum rolls in the third movement trio right now. And now the bass' last line before the scherzo explodes back onto the scene - strictly in tempo. This music is alive. Wow.
DISCLAIMER: This was written after midnight, so it may contain fancies and flights of purple prose.