Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Herbert von Karajan – Beethoven – Symphony No. 4 B-flat major op. 60

   Symphonic oeuvres by Ludwig van Beethoven provoke listeners to an interesting alternation of meaning. While odd symphonies are considered to be rather revolutionary and unique, even are seen as predominantly more conservative and stable. Among four even symphonies only Pastoral Symphony is clearly a rebellious in idea and construction. But three others, 2nd, 4th and 8th are seen as more balanced and in fact less meaningful. Of course this deeply unfair assumption comes more likely from the way these symphonies are interpreted, than from their actual contents. For example many renditions of Symphony no. 4 are basing the presumption there are no tragic fragments in this work. In this context any different rendition can be seen as revealing, but when reinterpretation is made by Herbert von Karajan, it is insightful by definition.
   Two years after Eroica and two years before famous Fifth in the summer 1806 Beethoven composed Symphony No. 4 B-flat major op. 60. It was premiered in March 1807 at a private prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz’s home concert. The same evening premieres were Coriolan Overture op.62 and Piano Concerto G major op. 58. The form of this symphony is almost perfect medium of mature classical style. First and last parts are in sonata form and in the key of B-flat major. Dialogues between instruments in the development section of first movement Allegro vivace are indicating the real aim of this symphony could be a kind of discourse on relations between form and meaning. This is confirmed by resonating violins theme augmented with great symphonic setting in second movement Adagio in E-flat major key. Last movement  Allegro ma non troppo with its erupting enthusiasm confirms discursive idea of Fourth Symphony.

Herbert von Karajan – Beethoven – Symphony No. 4 (1977)

   Herbert von Karajan recording in 70’s his second complete set of Beethoven’s symphonies made interpretation of every one like it was separate attainment. This approach is justified because this symphony is separated by two-year gaps from previous and next symphony – the Third was written in 1804 and the Fifth was finished in 1808. These years were the time of political and health troubles, developing deafness and emotional complications in his personal life. And one more time Karajan has proven how great interpreter of Beethoven he was. Trying to grasp the meaning of symphony being for many conductors just consolation between tragic symphonies of this period, Karajan strengthened fragments of dramatic tension giving them a kind of sinister feeling and foreboding of active evil. Even in scherzo Allegro vivace he found characteristic traces of an obsessive anxiety.
   As it was mentioned, comparing to other symphonies, especially dramatically determined 3rd and 5th, Symphony B-flat major op. 60 is usually read as more sustainable, gentle and subtle. Not this time – the inner energy of this rendition is hard to believe. Berliner Philharmoniker working with Karajan as principal conductor from 1954 to 1989 was consistently one of the best symphonic orchestras worldwide. In 1970’s, and later on, its characteristic quality was beautiful sound in every moment of extremely wide dynamic range. This gave conductor possibility for creating interpretation virtually without limitations. And in Beethoven’s symphonys as well as in many other of his recordings Herbert von Karajan make great use of this features. Having at his disposal the orchestra of phenomenally beautiful sound, Karajan strengthened dynamic contrasts and with perfect articulation augmented dramatic qualities of symphonic narration. This vision of Symphony B-flat is as much dramatic as classically balanced. Finale Allegro ma non troppo and especially turbulent transformations in central part makes it the key movement carrying out the idea of this performance. Here is also the place and time for more dramatic effects than might have been expected.

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