All done on Sunday June 21, when the postman won’t knock once let alone twice and phone-calls and emails should be fewer – Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies listened to in numerical order, assisted by Ondine’s sequential presentation, a keenly anticipated project for yours truly, even if I was slightly alarmed in readiness – for, allowing that Robert Trevino would probably observe all repeats, having the Eroica and Fourth Symphonies on one disc (albeit lasting eighty-five minutes) suggests swift speeds. Fast Beethoven is all the rage these days.
Of course, listening is key rather than pre-judging, but express tempos are not generally my delight in this music, irrespective of those metronome markings, once dismissed to me as “c**p” by an internationally renowned conductor.
As it turns out … The slow introduction to Symphony 1 is quite romantic, rather endearing, and the Allegro, while quick, isn’t rushed, there’s time to point and shape the music, with woodwind and timpani detail lucid. The three movements that follow are also persuasively judged … Symphony 2 also opens with an address full of promise, and the Allegro is convincingly power-driven, with something saved for the required ‘lift’ come the coda – Trevino matches Celibidache (Munich) and Kubelík (Concertgebouw) at this exhilarating moment, followed by a slow movement that is wonderfully expressive at a spacious tempo – twelve minutes of reverie from the Elysian Fields.
I don’t propose to mention every movement of each Symphony, unless necessary. Suffice to say that the Eroica is wholly magnificent, encouragingly time-taken, the first movement marrying rhythmic spring, determination and blazing tuttis, succeeded by a sixteen-minute Marche funèbre that is both dignified yet weighed down by the woes of the World. There are solo strings in the Finale, from 1:12 to 1:43, creating an attractively country-dance effect (although Trevino is not the first to do this). The coda flies off the page … and into the dawn-like start of Symphony 4, here brooding as dawn emerges from night, until the brightness of day arrives. The slow movement is lingered over, to advantage, with lovely clarinet contributions; and, equally advantageous, is the rapid tempo for the Scherzo, although it does mean quite a slowing for the Trio. The bassoonist in the Finale is pretty marvellous.
And so to the mighty Fifth, major to minor, dark to light … Trevino sweeps through the first movement with dramatic intent and incisive accents, with room for a poetic oboe soliloquy. (I seem to be alone in thinking, as good as it certainly is, that Carlos Kleiber’s universally praised DG recording is just a little overrated.) Trevino goes on to search the Andante second movement, aided by not relying too much on the con moto direction. Following a (once-through) Scherzo and Trio, the Finale can take greater grandeur than it is given (I am thinking Giulini and the LA Phil) although there is no doubting the boost to one’s spirits this account gives – the medicinal power of music … segueing nicely into the Pastoral Symphony, buoyant and joyous in the first movement, flowing if relaxed in the second. When the Storm is reached Trevino unleashes something elemental to which the final Thanksgiving glows; some exquisite detailing here.
Symphony 7 is trickier to call. Maybe the main body of the first movement is too fleet (and these days I prefer it without the exposition repeat, this is music that bounds forward), the succeeding Allegretto too stately; and although the Scherzo is enjoyably perky, the Trio drags to tedium (Toscanini’s tempo-relationship between the two sections is spot-on) yet the Finale is too fast: from Trevino this Allegro con brio is faster than the Presto Scherzo … however, Trevino makes amends with a curvy first movement of the classically concise No.8, but in the closing bars his ritardando rather usurps Beethoven’s humorous throwaway ending: conductors such as Gielen, Monteux and Ormandy appreciate that nothing needs to be done. Dry wit, courtliness and propulsion respectively inform the remaining three movements.
The Ninth Symphony, the Choral. My touchstone recordings are Klemperer – live in London, 1957, in Walter Legge-supervised stereo, its commercial release vetoed by the conductor until Testament issued it (SBT 1177) – and Solti, his first Chicago version for Decca. From Trevino the first movement is urgent and impulsive, lyrical too, although the biggest climax lacks the last degree of cataclysm, whereas the Scherzo is pointed to perfection, and, thank goodness, Trevino observes the second repeat, as do Klemperer and Solti, although I am amazed at how many conductors ignore it, and the Trio, while sprightly, isn’t the bonkers speed that some maestros impose upon it: let’s not be pedantic to the page but be governed by what the music itself dictates (I believe Alfred Brendel has said something similar, that’ll do for me). Trevino judges this movement to a nicety. As he does the Adagio, properly serene from the off (it tends to be harried into life these days) with room for subtle increases of pace for Andante passages. As for the Schiller-inspired vocal Finale (with Kate Royal, Christine Rice, Tuomas Katajala, Derek Welton – the latter stentorian on his first appearance: “not these tones”, indeed – and the MSO Festival Chorus), it is large-scale and dug into, the Ode to Joy lovingly shaped, although the soloists tend to dominate and the choir sounds too few in personnel; when they are all having a go the effect is strident.
American Robert Trevino – now in his mid-thirties and who studied/has worked with, among others, Leif Segerstam, Michael Tilson Thomas and David Zinman – is principal conductor of the Malmö Symphony and Basque National orchestras. With his excellent Swedish ensemble Trevino has carved-out a Beethoven Symphony Cycle that is reassuringly measured yet clear-sighted as to the music’s course and nodal points; whatever the influence of his mentors, Trevino is his own man.
Recorded during October 2019 in Malmö Live Konserthus – at times a little too bright and resonant, if always vivid – from four concerts (10, 12, 17 & 19) that report a consistently high standard of preparation and, even allowing for any post-concert patching, playing. A few coughs and noises-off aside, the audience is not intrusive and applause is removed, although a few movements seem spectator-free, the first of the Choral, for example.
I am pleased to report that Trevino, at almost every turn, pulled the rug from under me regarding fears of quickstep Beethoven. These are performances at once traditional yet new-minted, individual without being interventionist. I do wish he had distributed the violins antiphonally though, but there are very good things here, to return to with enthusiasm, especially Symphonies 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6, and most of No.4. Ondine includes a goodly amount of silence between movements, save when Trevino introduces an attacca into certain Finales, and even more quietude between the coupled Symphonies themselves. Ondine 1348-5Q (5 SACDs).