Kent Nagano / Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal

Beethoven: Gods, Heroes and Men

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For this 2011 Sony release, the theme of "Gods, Heroes, and Men" is used to bring together five selections from Ludwig van Beethoven's ballet, Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus (The Creatures of Prometheus), and his Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, "Eroica." Obviously, Beethoven's heroic middle period wouldn't be what it is without the "Eroica" Symphony, and the work's historical connection to Napoleon Bonaparte makes this piece more intriguing, while the myth of Prometheus has resonance in the ideas of early Romanticism and certainly ties in with the godlike image Beethoven encouraged about himself. But trying to develop some unifying raison d'être for this CD (by way of the enhanced bonus tracks, which contain narration of the Prometheus story in English and French by Lambert Wilson) creates almost too much weight for it to bear. The musical link that makes this pairing of works interesting is the quirky theme found in the Finale of the ballet, which Beethoven developed further in the Finale of the "Eroica" Symphony. This is a significant association that shows how Beethoven made use of his materials between works. But this barely justifies the inclusion of the five movements from The Creatures of Prometheus, when the symphony is plainly the most important work and deserves to stand on its own. Kent Nagano's performances with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal are attractive, with an agreeable mix of grace and robustness, and the sound of the recording is good, with a wide dynamic range and tone colors that are rich, if too evenly blended. This is an enjoyable album on musical terms alone, but the attempt to find deeper meaning by linking Beethoven, Prometheus, and Napoleon is unnecessary window dressing.

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