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Beethoven: The Nine Symphonies
Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36
Coriolan Overture, Op. 62
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 'Eroica'
Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93
Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60
Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 'Pastoral'
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92
Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 'Choral'
Emilia Cundari (soprano), Nell Rankin (mezzo-soprano), Albert Da Costa (tenor), William Wilderman (baritone)
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(First release 1963)
“This was the first set of the Nine to be planned, recorded and sold as an integral cycle. It was also a set that had been extremely carefully positioned from the interpretative point of view.
Where Karajan's 1950s Philharmonia cycle had elements in it that owed a certain amount to the old German school of Beethoven interpretation, the new-found virtuosity of the Berliners allowed him to approach more nearly the fierce beauty and lean-toned fiery m anner of Toscanini's Beethoven style as Karajan had first encountered it in its halcyon age in the mid-1930s.
Nothing demonstrates this better than the 1962 recording of the Fourth Symphony, fiery and radiant as Karajan's reading had not previously been, and never would be again. The old shibboleth among writers and musicians that the evennumbered symphonies were somehow less dramatic than the odd-numbered ones meant nothing to Karajan. His accounts of the Second, Fourth, Sixth and Eighth Symphonies were every bit as intense as their allegedly sturdier neighbours. Only in the Seventh Symphony's third movement Trio and the Menuetto of the Eighth Symphony – where he continued to follow Wagner's idea of this as an essentially stately dance, a kind of surrogate slow movement – did he deviate significantly from the Toscanini model. And it worked. True, the first movement of the Pastoral Symphony was a touch airless, lacking some of the easy wonderment of Karajan's old Philharmonia recording. But, then, Toscanini himself had never managed to replicate the unique charm of his pre-war English recording with the BBC SO.
The original review of the cycle entered a number of caveats, some of which still pertain, though it's the lack of certain repeats and the non-antiphonal dispensation of the violins that may worry some most nowadays. What so enthused us back then was the urgency of the music-making, its vitality and, ultimately, a fierce sense of joy that had its natural point of culmination in a thrillingly played and eloquently sung account of the finale of the Ninth.
The playing of the new rejuvenated BPO dazzled throughout, as did Günther Hermanns recordings: clean and clear, and daringly 'lit' with a bright shimmer of reverberation. The recordings have always transferred effortlessly to CD and the present reissue is no exception.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
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Gabriele Lechner (soprano), Diane Elias (contralto), Michael Pabst (tenor), Robert Holzer (bass-baritone)
Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra, CSR Symphony Orchestra, Bratislava, Zagreb Philharmonic Chorus, Richard Edlinger, Michael Halasz
Beethoven - Complete Symphonies
“This set is remarkable and many will rate it as Mr Knightley rates Emma Woodhouse 'faultless in spite of her faults'. In his booklet essay, Peter Czorny tells us that the recordings are offered in the hope of transporting the listener back 'to that moment when this music burst forth into a world of heroes, wars and revolution, creating its own world of the sublime and ineffable'. This theme is developed by Gardiner in a robust 20-minute talk on the project that comes free on a sixth CD. Gardiner's opinion that Beethoven wanted his musicians to live dangerously has some peculiar consequences.
Symphony No 1: The opening is superbly judged. Gardiner doesn't overplay the Adagiomolto, and the Allegro con brio, often played with a fatal languor by members of the old German School, is pretty quick. After his absurdly brisk reading of the second movement, Gardiner goes on to conduct dazzlingly successful accounts of the Scherzo and finale. Symphony No 2: This is very fine throughout. By following the written tempo markings and his own musical instincts Gardiner produces a perfomance of the first movement that opens out the drama most compellingly.
Symphony No 3: More révolutionnaire than romantique. A very fast first movement gets within spitting distance of an impossible metronome mark. That and keen texturing make for tremendous dramatic urgency. Unfortunately, there's also too little accommodation en route of the rich cargo of ideas that Beethoven has shipped into this movement. In their haste to get to the recapitulation itself, Gardiner and his players are decidedly unpoised. He's superb in the last two movements; but these are considerably less than half the story where the Eroica is concerned. Symphony No 4: An unusually quick introductory and brisk Allegro vivace. Gardiner treats the pivotal drum entry before the recapitulation atmospherically. Glorious slow movement, impossibly quick finale.
Symphony No 5: Here is the stuff of which revolutions are made. Gardiner plays the piece pretty straight, and at white heat. The orchestra is superb, helped by the Francophone bias of its sound base. That said, the Scherzo (with repeat) is surely too fast. It starts briskly and not especially quietly. The pace drops back for the Trio, which is just as well since the strings are hardpressed to articulate clearly. The finale is also very fast, again ahead of what's generally regarded as a good metronome. There's a grandeur to the Scherzo-cum-finale that could be seen to reflect a vision that transcends the politics of revolution. Still, for its éclat terrible, this is unbeatable. The slow movement is also superbly shaped and directed.
Symphony No 6: Despite some lovely playing in the slow movement and an air of brisk efficiency, this is a rather joyless Pastoral. Nor is it a spiritually uplifting one. The Scherzo – 'A merry gathering of country folk' – is a very high-speed affair. At such a pace the various amusing false entries rather lose their point; to play in this village band you would need to be a virtuoso, and teetotal to boot.
Symphony No 7: A glorious performance. The introduction sets the scene with an ideal blend of weight and anticipation. The Vivace has a splendid dance feel and a power that's wholly unforced. Scherzo and finale are also superbly paced. The Allegretto is eloquent with a sense of barely sublimated grieving. The recording is magnificent. Symphony No 8: In general, the symphony thrives on the Gardiner approach, though in the finale the emphasis is again on high-speed locomotion.
Symphony No 9: The first movement has never been dispatched as rapidly as here. In fact, Gardiner doesn't get the bit between the teeth until bar 51, so the celebrated introduction has room to breathe. But he isn't entirely inflexible, and he and his players show remarkable skill in making busy detail tell. Yet a lot does go by the board. The slow movement is also played very quickly. However, the finale is superb. Tempos are unerringly chosen, the choral singing is beyond criticism, and there's a rare expressive quality to the singing of the solo quartet. High quality playing from the orchestra and often exceptional Archiv sound. At best, the physical and intellectual vitality of this music-making brings us close to the Ding an sich'. It's a best that occurs only intermittently. That it occurs at all is perhaps a sufficient miracle.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010