With the Louisville Orchestra’s performances of Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Choral” Symphony coming soon, I thought I would recommend a couple of recordings of the work. In the historically informed performance (HIP) category, I would recommend the EMI recording of the London Classical Players as conducted by Roger Norrington. Norrington’s group seems to capture the best aspects of HIP which includes the raw power of the original instruments and the faster tempi of the movements.
When the EMI Norrington recordings first were issued they were scorned by some critics and hailed as a revelation by many listeners. Much of the ire was aimed at the tempi, according to Norrington:
“The speed of the music was a particular problem. Beethoven had carefully given a metronome mark to every movement and every change of tempo in his symphonies. But almost every conductor ignored these speeds and performed the music much more slowly and ‘grandly’.”
The Romantic movement saw orchestras getting larger. At the same time, Beethoven’s shadow cast over music history like a titan. The orchestras lead by Gustav Mahler, Leopold Stowkoski and others performed Beethoven’s opuses with a sense of reverence. The larger group of musicians required slower tempi to accommodate the bigger number of instruments.
With the smaller historically-informed groups, performances of Beethoven’s symphonies became lithe, more supple works. The original tempo markings by Beethoven seem to suddenly make sense with the smaller ensembles.
Next week I’ll recommend a “traditional” performance of the work. In the meantime, enjoy this excerpt of Roger Norrington’s interpretation of the second movement with the London Classical Players: