Beethoven: Symphony No 3 in E flat major, Op 55 (Eroica); Richard Strauss: Horn Concerto No 1 in E flat major, Op 11

Reviewed on Fri 16 Nov, 2018

This is an immaculately presented Eroica of many virtues. But would a similar performance have created a furore at its premiere?

Let’s talk Strauss first, not yet nineteen when he composed this concerto, the tough horn part foxing his father for whom it was written. Not William Caballero, who doesn’t bat an eyelid. His sense of line and structure is absolute, both he and Manfred Honeck at one in not seeing the work as simply a virtuoso showpiece. Sample the slow movement to know that display also includes tenderly phrased responses to mood and emotional content, Honeck balancing the orchestral fabric with utmost finesse so as not to drown Caballero’s breath-holding pianissimos. Or his brazenly ringing rasps at the other end of the spectrum mingling with an effortless insouciance to round out a prepossessing performance. And prepossessing is also the right epithet to describe the quality of the whole orchestra. Honeck’s conducting is similar but his interpretation of the Eroica is uneven. A slower than expected tempo for the first movement dilutes its forward thrust, with the spurious trumpet extension at bar 659 inexplicably resuscitated; and the second, though heartfelt and moving, is not paced as a march. Matters markedly improve with a tightly incisive scherzo, and a finale that starts and ends most arrestingly but is flawed by the middle episode, Poco Andante, treated as another slow movement. This is an immaculately presented Eroica of many virtues. But would a similar performance have created a furore at its premiere? For an answer turn to Jordi Savall (Alia Vox) who, using instruments of the period, and drawing out, at Beethoven’s metronome markings, a raw, sinewy, untamed edge to this music, shows how one composer with one symphony shocked 18th century audiences by hurling an established form into a new era lasting eight decades. Until Mahler.
–Nalen Anthoni