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Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 - Savall

Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 - Savall

Alia Vox Heritage  AVSA9916

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Beethoven: Symphony No. 3; Coriolan Overture

Le Concert des Nations
Jordi Savall (conductor)

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Review by John Broggio - April 9, 2016

It had to happen eventually: the first recording from Jordi Savall that can't be enthusiastically recommended & this is unfortunately it.

There's nothing wrong with Savall's conception of this work; indeed many of his tempo & balancing choices are not far removed from some of the leading (HIP) exponents of this composer. This approach definitely reveals the revolutionary aspects of the piece and actually makes it sound bold and searching.

However, there is equally no doubt that orchestras like ORR, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (and many others) have managed to produce far more attractive sounds than Savall's Le Concert des Nations. It's rather surprising, for this ensemble has given some truly wonderful accounts of music that is (at least) as virtuoso in approach as this Beethoven but they are clearly less familiar than they have proved in earlier parts of the orchestral repertoire. There is nothing that is markedly out of time (or out of tune) but the style of playing is what might charitably called "gruff".

However, even if this orchestra had turned in a performance on period instruments as refined as (say) Beethoven: Symphonies 3 & 8 - Paavo Järvi, the quality of the recording itself would make it hard for listeners to fully appreciate their work. Here, Savall's musicians are handicapped by being recorded in an acoustic that is both too resonant and very "hard" to the sounds they are making. The remastering into MCH does nothing to alleviate the limitations inherent in the stereo experience either.

Very frustrating and disappointing in the current form. Given a longer period of preparation for the orchestra and a better acoustic though, one can easily imagine Savall providing a very stimulating take on Beethoven's wonderful symphonic output that would be far easier to appreciate on a repeated basis.

Copyright © 2016 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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Sonics (Stereo):

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Comment by wilbur - April 15, 2016 (1 of 4)

I am afraid I can't agree with Mr Broggio's review here. I do not have this SACD remaster, but have the original Stereo, and in my opinion its the best version available, and makes the piece sound like the revolutionary work it surely was. Don't know what the remaster is like, but the performance is fabulous!

Comment by John Broggio - April 16, 2016 (2 of 4)

I agree that it sounds revolutionary, especially in the sense that it sounds newly composed & is thrilling in that light. However, I've been lucky enough to attend period instrument performances that manage to capture that *and* do so without sounding rough around the edges.

Best regards, John.

Comment by Carlos M. Alvarado - March 31, 2017 (3 of 4)

I disagree with the review posted above.

Savall's Eroica is one of my favorite interpretations of anything by anyone. This is an SACD remaster of the magnificent 1994 Auvidis Fontalis recording. This redo slightly improves on the details of the previous recording, but I would say the improvement is marginal - kind of hard to top such a great original recording. The good news is that this SACD makes this essential recording widely available again as the original has been out of print for a while.

The booklet included with the SACD describes the story behind the actual recording. Savall says that the session started at 6 pm with a lengthy process of adjustment and balancing with two pair of stereo microphones. To achieve the "desired sound balance" took until 11 pm so the first actual takes of the Eroica movements took place after midnight with the Marcia Funebre recorded after 7:30 am the same morning. Savall says they had never played the Funeral March with such drama and emotion. So they pulled an all-nighter recording these pieces. This story makes sense because you can hear some roughness in the playing, perhaps from the musicians being weary-eyed playing at 4 am, but in my view that slight jaggedness enhances the impact of the period performance.

Savall says that even though the recording took place in 1994 he set it aside for 3 years so he would have a more objective idea of what he had achieved. In 1997 he listened to the recording and decided to release it.

Here is the July 1997 Gramophone review of the original release by Richard Osborne:
"There is a real sense of burgeoning excitement at the start of Savall’s performance; and the sound of the orchestra really does conjure up the sense of one being transported back to some dusky Viennese concert room c1805 where the musicians are as dangerous a crew as the militias roaming the mud-filled streets outside. Yet as the musical arguments begin to multiply and deepen, so the performance gets more garbled. For all Savall’s skill in moulding and modifying the pulse, there’s a jauntiness about parts of the first movement development section which muddles and trivializes the music.

Again, in the Marcia funebre, the Savall performance is astonishing for the mood it conjures. The drum (calf skin head, hard sticks) is fierce and seductive, an instrument of war that suggests also the soft thud of death. Savall’s brass are similarly remarkable, at once brazen and mellow-sounding. The horn section alone – Thomas Muller, Raul Diaz and Javier Bonet – deserves an award for the way the players colour and characterize this astonishing music.

There is no disguising the fact that Savall’s thinking about tempo is controversial. It is all very modern: post-modern, even. (After Savall, conductors like Norrington and Gardiner sound distressingly ‘safe’.) It is typical of Savall that though he conducts very quick, very earthy, very exciting accounts of the Eroica’s Scherzo (those horns again!) and finale, he still slows up pretty massively for the finale’s oboe-led Poco andante at bar 348. It is a performance, none the less, that I shall hang to for the sonic profile alone. The Auvidis recording is first-rate: warm and immediate."

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - April 13, 2017 (4 of 4)

I’m sure that John Broggio agrees with me that it is anyone’s right to appreciate or not a particular recording, or even judging Savall's Eroica “one of my favorite interpretations of anything by anyone”. But the role of a reviewer is different. He (or she) should inform prospective buyers of what they may expect, avoiding any particular, preconceived ideas.

Jordy Savall is adored by a substantial group of ‘followers’ and so is everything he does. But the mere fact that recording sessions went on all through the night does mean little else than running the risk of losing precision through sheer fatigue. Such a practice is not an asset ‘per se’. It is no guarantee for creating something special.

In spite of that I, too, find the Marcia Funebre extraordinarily well done and so much better than, for instance, Andrew Manze and the Helsingborg Symphony.

Beethoven shocked the musical world with his third symphony, and so does Savall. At first hearing his reading definitely delivers great impact, but what about repeated listening to such an outspoken performance? It’s not just 'revolutionary' but rather often disturbingly nervous, with a hollow sound due to the chosen recording venue of the 11th Century Chapel ‘Sant Vicenç’, which is far away from Beethoven’s Vienna concert hall premiere (Theater an der Wien). Historically not so well informed, one might say. Savall must have had his doubts, too, keeping it on the shelve for three years.

As John Broggio suggests, it does have something going for it, but there are other period versions meriting our attention as well. I would have given some more stars but there, too, readers should not attach too much attention to it; it’s the text of the review that counts most and here Broggio gives, as far as I’m concerned, some useful clues for careful consideration.