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The Old Testament of the orchestral repertoire, you might say – and here in performances of Biblical weight and authority.
If the journey through the nine works is itself an education in Beethoven’s world; in one man’s expressive voyage from 18th-century Enlightenment values through to 19th-century ideals of artistic heroism, and indeed to eternal values of beauty and brotherhood as adumbrated in the Ninth; in the possibilities of colour and harmony afforded by the expanding orchestra of the time; then the Dresden Staatskapelle has a history that reaches back further even than Beethoven, as one of the most distinguished of European ensembles, soaked in this music and in traditions of performing it that may evolve over time but are fundamentally rooted within their own sense of corporate identity.
And who better to lead them than a conductor who has always prized Beethoven’s expressive ideals as much as his musical innovations; who can see the composer in a symphonic continuum from Haydn to Tippett, and who, now in the late autumn of his career, is well loved by all the ensembles he directs; not least this one, with which he has had a fruitful relationship stretching back three decades, and who elected him their Conductor Laureate in 1990, shortly before this cycle of recordings began.
“There has not been a Beethoven cycle like this since Klemperer’s heyday, or Bruno Walter’s, … informed by an imaginative vision that derives … from a certain sense of fundamental wholeness, the conductor and
his fellow musicians sufficiently at ease with themselves and the music they are playing to render the task of performing it nothing less than a physical pleasure and a private joy.”
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