Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Beethoven & Tchaikovsky
Symphony No 3 Eroica (recording date: 1941) and Ouverture Coriolan (1943)
Tschaikowsky: Tema con variazioni from Suite No 3 (1934)

Berliner Philharmonisches Orchester/Carl Schuricht

Hanssler Profil PH04047 [60'35"]

I saw Schuricht conduct once only, rehearsing in BBC Maida Vale Studio 1 (I probably went to the broadcast too; in those days there were many with invited audiences). Two vivid memories remain; the first was the confusion and consternation of the orchestra when he took the slow movement of Mozart Symphony 34 at double the indulgent tempo they were used to, before everything speeded up with the Early Music Movement. The other was watching him conduct something more complex (La Mer, possibly?) with his two arms beating in different speeds simultaneously for different sections of the orchestra.

Carl Schuricht (1880-1967) worked in Germany through the Nazi period, single minded in his "assiduousness, sense of duty and stringency", emigrating to Switzerland only in 1944 shortly before the end of the War.

Why do recordings of 60 and more years ago so often cast spells which make you wonder why they go on recording the same standard works year after year, however great they be? One answer, of course, is that historical re-issues are carefully selected for gold amongst the dross. And a point in favour of the best is the avoidance of too close multiple miking which can distort balance and focus excessively on timbre. Another is the aura of sound and style, even if the clicks and scratchiness of 78s have been ironed out with the aid of modern transfer technology. Not to be discounted is the nostalgia element for older listeners; this pre-Hi-Fi sound takes us back to how we learnt the canonic classics, supplementing what we heard with our Eulenberg miniature scores - active listening; even physically active when we had to wind up our gramophones.

This Eroica engenders a marvellous calm confidence as the first movement unfolds. The underlying pulse is maintained without rubato and gear changes to stress particular moments; it is all done with attention to detail and excellent balance, taking you forward as effortlessly as seem the BPO, who must have known the symphony and Schuricht's expectations inside out. It is unhurried, but never ponderous or over-emphatic, driven more by harmony and counterpoint (no first repeat). The funeral march is grave but does not milk the pathos. The scherzo is swift and light, with impeccable horns in the trio (not to be taken for granted in those days!). The finale is played with a steadiness which makes you realise that the excitement is built in by the composer, and does not need to be whiped up by the conductor.

Completed with a good Coriolan and the other Tchaikovsky Variations, this is a satisfying CD, if not for people who like to hear Beethoven's struggle with life and with moulding the material of his music to his will.

© Peter Grahame Woolf