Hans Vonk

Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 3 "Eroica" & 8

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This recording, launching the St. Louis Symphony Society's own label, is taken from live performances by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra under Hans Vonk on November 13 to 15, 1997. Immediately noticeable is the soft feeling of the two opening chords, followed by a more distant ambience on the orchestra than he has been used to from this source. It was at this point that he read the liner notes and discovered it was a live performance. He liked the brisk tempo and classical feeling of the first movement, which made its points with vigor and phrasing more than sheer heft.

The funeral march, although closer to the standard tempo, was also a shade faster and lighter in feeling than usual. This was a good choice; the standard performance is closer than it should be to the spirit of this movement's lineal descendant, Siegfried's Funeral March. Of note is the fine sound of the strings, without artificial brightness but with a sense of mass.

The deft string playing and alert tempo of the scherzo was also exhilarating, but the Trio (the scherzo's contrasting central section) brought home a fact that had been troubling throughout, which was the distant perspective on the winds. Those horns were several stops short of being blatant enough here. Astonishingly, this weak sound balance is the product of the ace recording team of producer Joanna Nickrenz and engineer Marc Aubort. The finale started out with a fine, spirited tempo. Now the wind group could clearly be seen to be submerged in the string sound, which predominated even when the brass had the primary line. Then, before the resumption of the first tempo near the end, Vonk unfortunately tried to achieve exaltation by means of slowness, unfortunately generating only impatience.

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