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Thread: Granate's Beethoven Symphony Challenge - Table 4 (WE 2 - UK, SWZ, AUS, CZR)

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    Default Granate's Beethoven Symphony Challenge - Table 4 (WE 2 - UK, SWZ, AUS, CZR)

    General introduction to the threads

    This thread is one part of my Beethoven Symphonies Challenge. It will be divided in six episodes or “tables”, and will compare a number of Symphony cycles in terms of performing quality and sound. The content of the six tables is closed, so please, don’t ask for any cycle to be included.

    When each thread is opened, it means they offer my impressions of my favourite cycles and some remarks. You can ask me for my opinion of a lesser rated cycle inside the board and I’ll try to reply whenever I can.

    Each “table” (except T1) is divided according to the location of the orchestra.

    • Table 1 Mono + Historically Informed Performances.
    • Table 2 Cycles made in the USA.
    • Table 3 Western Europe 1 (Netherlands, France, Italy).
    • Table 4 Western Europe 2 (Switzerland, Austria and the UK).
    • Tables 5 & 6 German orchestras

    Depending on the time, I may do further challenges between the winning sets from Tables 2-6. There is no cutting line in that case. It’s possible that one table sends 2 runner-ups and others have 4. Luck can always be a drawback. A decent cycle in the results may not be a waste of time.

    Please, take these threads as a recording recommendations and advice for potential buyers. I’m both taking notes of each symphony recording and filling an Excel board with all the cycles and their marks.

    Recordings tested on Superlux HD 668B headphones, not speakers.



    Table 4 – Western Europe Beethoven Cycles (Part 2)

    Conductor Orchestra Release
    Ansermet, Ernest Orchestre de la Suisse Romande 1964, Decca
    Bernstein, Leonard Wiener Philharmoniker 1978, DG
    Böhm, Karl Wiener Philharmoniker 1972, DG
    Haitink, Bernard London Symphony Orchestra 2011, LSO
    Jochum, Eugen London Symphony Orchestra 1979, WC
    Klemperer, Otto Philharmonia Orchestra 1961, WC
    Kletzki, Paul Czech Philharmonic Orchestra 1968, Supraphon
    Monteux, Pierre LSO + WPO 1965, Decca
    Schmidt-Isserstedt, Hans Wiener Philharmoniker 1969, Decca
    Thielemann, Christian Wiener Philharmoniker 2011, Sony

    Conductor Symphonies Orchestra Release
    Bernstein, Leonard No.9 Berlin Celebration Concert 1989, DG
    Böhm, Karl No.9 Wiener Philharmoniker 1981, DG
    Doráti, Antal Nos.3,5,6,7 London SO + Minneapolis SO 1963, Mercury
    Kleiber, Carlos No.5, No.7 Wiener Philharmoniker 1976, DG
    Solti, Georg Nos. 3,5,7 Wiener Philharmoniker 1958, Decca



    The second half of the Beethoven Symphony Challenge promised breakthroughs with the Viennese, London and German orchestras. Table 4 provides cycles with such a personality and/or efficiency that it’s even hard to give them high marks because they never look superior enough to their rivals. I don’t know if the marks are fair, because neither has taken over the George Szell average, but the impression is rather positive in every cycle except a couple or three, depending on the competition and the hype.

    Before I forget, I have to mention the two famous recordings of No.5 and No.7 by Carlos Kleiber. They unfortunately failed to impress me. The conducting is a particular mark that Bernstein equals with the same sound results. They are very soft. The Mercury recordings by Antal Doráti offer a great level in No.6 and No.7, but the No.3 is a no-go. This style couldn’t suit Beethoven better and reminds me of the Classical period. And one should not miss either the dynamic, soaring and Decca-branded Solti early recordings with the Wiener Philharmoniker (No.3,5&7). I liked No.5 (brisk and furious) and No.7 (broader, granitic) way more.

    10th: Thielemann WPO. This was the cycle I should not have challenged here, despite the recent lukewarm reviews from others. It’s supposed to be a live cycle but there is no audience, from the Euroarts DVDs. The sound is the muddiest of the table. Sometimes the smoothness is welcome like in No.6 or No.1. It has nothing new to offer and I should have rated the Abbado first cycle instead.

    9th: Jochum LSO. Close to the bottom, but with a more positive approach. I think the competition was so tough that the British orchestras couldn’t fight by themselves against the Wiener Philharmoniker sets. This set has a polished, classicist sound that shows for me hints of personality and conducting quality in top works like the No.3 and No.5. The two of them are worth the listen for the role of the brass and the pace by Jochum. It was usually in the bottom positions of each symphony because of the “cold” style and the tough competitors. Very decent cycle that never impresses me. It has its rightful fans.

    8th: Haitink LSO. Sometimes underwhelming, but that only means the rest of the cycles use the old and less subtle Beethoven edition. This release is way better for me than the Amsterdam first cycle, with a cleaner sound but way more personality in the orchestra. If I raise the volume a little, I enjoy more the precise lines of the strings and the prominent role of the timpani. It’s so far the best performance of the new editions by a modern-styled orchestra (Chailly may have a say later). It usually leaves a good taste but sometimes it’s not enough and sinks in the bottom like No.3, No.6, No.7 and No.8. No.5 and to some point No.9 are the best symphonies in the cycle.

    7th: Kletzki Czech Philharmonic. A cycle that although never raises above the level of the Viennese cycles, offers a distinctive conducting and colourful playing that sets the difference. The sound and the recording quality is an issue, but it’s balanced enough for us to enjoy. It’s one of those underdogs that wouldn’t battle the fan favourites but on spare listens, it shows up really well. It has a very good average for its fame, with fine accounts of the No.3, No.8, No.9 and a better No.5. Their strengths are usually the strings and the winds.

    6th: Bernstein Vienna. Like Klemperer, killed partially by the new 2017 remaster. All the recordings sound so cold I cannot feel anything unlike the previous cycle. I fear the new remasters don’t fit this conductor at all in Beethoven. The performances are less rough and more refined, losing the youth I liked so much in New York. It’s like he never gets all the steam from the WPO although some Mahler recordings are on fire. Just generally too soft. It still has a better average than many cycles but the hype was killed. My highlights are the first impression of the No.1 and the flowing No.9 with a great quartet of singers; in this one, the new remaster works way better.



    The top 5 cycles weren’t very far from the bottom 5, but had enough level to battle properly the best Beethoven sets in a final.



    Beethoven
    9 Symphonies
    Gwyneth Jones, Tatiana Troyanos, Jess Thomas, Karl Ridderbusch
    Wiener Staatsopernchor
    Wiener Philharmoniker
    Karl Böhm
    Deutsche Grammophon (1972/2017 Reissue Edition)


    5th: Böhm WPO. I don’t know what to think about this cycle, it’s certainly prominent in the brass and I would swear this doesn’t sound like the Wiener Philharmoniker, which is a pro in this challenge. The dynamic conducting is another advantage: Böhm speeds up or slows down depending on the symphony and within the movements of the symphony. It never gets too idiosyncratic. Broad even numbered symphonies and brisker, swifter odd numbered ones (if you don’t take into account a tame No.5). The symphonies stood usually in the middle of the table and the average is quite good. My favourites were No.6, which isn’t the referent Pastoral I read almost everywhere, and a dynamic and powerful No.4. For No.9, unlike the fine performance within the set, the individual release from 1982 offers a more polished sound and heartfelt conducting. The singers are a treat in that one.



    Beethoven
    9 Symphonies
    Aase Nordmo Løvberg, Christa Ludwig, Waldemar Kmentt, Hans Hotter
    Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus
    Otto Klemperer
    Warner Classics (1961/2011 Remastered Edition)


    4th: Klemperer Philharmonia EMI. It’s very difficult to remain indifferent to this cycle, praised in the past and one of the sets that get more negative comments now. I had two reactions for almost all the symphonies.

    1. The slow pace suits Beethoven thanks to the Philharmonia.
    2. The 2011 Remasters have a terrible tin-can early stereo sound.

    The performances are quite bearable for me, except No.5. Symphony No.9 wasn’t very special either but it was just fine. No.5 is just too slow. The cycle has a nice average, similar to Kubelík. By some landmarks like the No.3 and the No.7, one gets a monumental Beethoven with solid and colourful performances, and with a slower pace than what they usually demand. I don’t know if it shall go to the final.



    Beethoven
    9 Symphonies
    Elisabeth Söderström, Regina Resnik, Jon Vickers, David Ward
    London Bach Choir
    London Symphony Orchestra
    Wiener Philharmoniker
    Pierre Monteux
    Decca (1965/2015 Remastered Edition)


    3rd: Monteux London/Vienna. One of the strongest cycles in the challenge and which deserves to go through the final. The first three concepts I come up with are dynamism, roughness and plasticity. The two orchestras, the LSO and the WPO, barely have any difference in sound, which is a miracle. Decca has remastered the set perfectly. The recordings are usually brisk in tempo and edgy sound. In terms of symphonies, the first half isn’t very competitive in this table but very enjoyable anyway. The No.8 is a surprising disappointment because of the darker sound. And the set shines in a lively and iconic No.5 and a string-filled No.7. The No.9 isn’t very far but the LSC is really muddy (perfect LSO anyway). Although the level is usually very good, we are more likely to find strengths in the odd numbered symphonies.



    Beethoven
    9 Symphonies
    Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, James King, Martti Talvela
    Wiener Staatsopernchor
    Wiener Philharmoniker
    Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
    Decca (1969/2012 Digital download)


    2nd: Schmidt-Isserstedt. I was afraid the 60s Decca sound with the Wiener Philharmoniker wasn’t going to do anything for me, but this set is really far from that. HS-I, what I like to call the conductor, is not key to the performances, although he is certainly responsible for the peaceful balance of the orchestra and movements. It never sounds too commercial, but like the best the WPO could give in their core instruments: the strings. The symphonies are really polished, although some are not free from getting a standard mark for unevenness like the No.1 and No.6. They are very nice anyway, but little competitive. Just with slightly more punch, the set achieves summits of near-perfection (never spectacle) with No.3, No.4, No.7 & No.8. The greatest advantage of the set is that with that WPO sound, I wouldn’t miss other cycles. It’s a great set to settle to.



    Beethoven
    9 Symphonies
    Joan Sutherland, Norma Procter, Anton Dermota, Arnold van Mill
    Choeur des Jeunes de l'Eglise National de Vandoise
    Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
    Ernest Ansermet
    Decca (1974/2009 Remastered Edition)


    1st: Ansermet. This Swiss set became the most positive surprise for me, starting with a great No.1 but the level suddenly disappeared from No.2 to No.4. The style is very similar to HS-I in the orchestral playing although the edges are much bolder and the conducting is more dynamic. It’s hair-raising when the odds are with us.

    The danger shows up when the recording quality plummets and some distortions and glitches happen, like the transfers were not on point. I was the most amazed by this because they only happened in those early symphonies, and there was no trace of it in the rest. Are these Commercial LP transfers instead of the Original Master tapes? Sometimes, I hear stage noises and Ansermet tutting too. To sum up, not the best sound you can find in this challenge or the best cycles

    It has a really high level in the challenge and it’s surely the one with the best average behind Szell and Bernstein NY. My favourite performances are two rough and electric recordings of No.6 and No.9 (more passion from the singers than later in HS-I).



    Direkt till Finale: Ansermet OSR, H.S-I WPO, Monteux Decca
    Andra Chansen?: Böhm WPO, & Klemperer PO

    I’m very sorry for the complicated composition of my written English. There are many times that I’m more inspired in my keyboard. But this time the challenge was so tight that until the last symphony I didn’t know who could win and I had no narrative from worse to best. These sets deserve a round of applause.

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    I'm definitely not with you on this one, Granate, however ill agree on one thing - that the Ansermet set is the best here (just). The drive of that cycle is compelling and its as exciting as hell with a cracking sound, too. I'm surprised the Kletzki set didn't win you over. I love it. Its paced on the slower side but the Czech PO are absolutely brilliant and the inner detail is lovingly captured in warm analogue sound and it's way better than Bernstein's dull VPO set in every way. Most symphonies are very good but #4 and #3 are particularly impressive. Also I thought that you might rate the Haitink LSO cycle. Haitink does a great job with most symphonies and the disc with #4 and #8 is a cracker. Schmidt-Isserstedt is not the most exciting set. It certainly doesn't surpass Klemperer's remastered cycle on Pristine, for me. I don't think Klemperer sounds tinny, btw. They've just cleaned it up and given the top end a boost (which it needed). Klemperer may be slow but his rock-solid approach has plenty of momentum, except for a sadly misfiring and joyless 7th. One other place I'll agree with you is on Thielemann's set. It was widely lauded by many critics but I think its very average and very traditionally paced and yes... The sound is very bass heavy and boggy.
    Last edited by Merl; Apr-23-2018 at 20:17.

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    Senior Member Granate's Avatar
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    Fair enough Merl. I thought almost all the cycles had a particular quality. Together with the Vienna cycles, the Kletzki cycle wasn't shining. But with more luck it would have been reviewed in Table 3 and would probably have a very positive review. It's never dull.



    This afternoon I thought I would really like to have on CD the complete Ansermet Beethoven Set. The thing is that it's available on CD through Australian Eloquence, but for the last 5 months the prices have been quite high for the three double-cds. CamelCamelCamel shows almost half-priced items one or two years ago.

    If I spent the money to have them, I'll use one of the special jewel cases I have on my shelf: the Barenboim TUI. That one by Teldec was odd enough to have 6 cd places. I would only need to buy another 4CD jewel case, switch the cases and use the 6CD case with the Ansermet CDs and these Covers I designed just now.

    These covers are only low-res, hey.



    Last edited by Granate; Apr-23-2018 at 20:50. Reason: fixed French grammar typo in back-cover

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    Senior Member realdealblues's Avatar
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    So many things I want to remark on but I haven't the time right now...maybe later...

    I'll only make one remark at the moment and that is that Bohm's digital remake of Beethoven's 9th from the 80's is no where near the level of the recording from his Vienna cycle. That one is soooooooo uninspired and dull with singing that isn't even close to the absolute perfection of his studio 9th. The rush at the final coda is the greatest one on record since Furtwangler! Bohm's studio 9th along with Fricsay and Wand's are to me the three greatest stereo recordings of Beethoven's 9th put on record! I cannot rate Bohm's 9th high enough and in my opinion has never been bettered, only equaled by a select few. The Vienna Philharmonics playing is incredible and anyone who truly wants to hear one of the top 9ths ever recorded needs to hear this recording!

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Granate View Post
    Fair enough Merl. I thought almost all the cycles had a particular quality. Together with the Vienna cycles, the Kletzki cycle wasn't shining. But with more luck it would have been reviewed in Table 3 and would probably have a very positive review. It's never dull.


    Those covers look great, Granate. I love your newly realised album covers. Great job.

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    Quote Originally Posted by realdealblues View Post
    So many things I want to remark on but I haven't the time right now...maybe later...

    I'll only make one remark at the moment and that is that Bohm's digital remake of Beethoven's 9th from the 80's is no where near the level of the recording from his Vienna cycle. That one is soooooooo uninspired and dull with singing that isn't even close to the absolute perfection of his studio 9th.
    I'll also have more remarks later but I absolutely agree that Bohm's VPO 9th is one of the great ones and far surpasses his later recording. (And yes, Wand's and Fricsay's are great too.)
    Last edited by classfolkphile; Apr-24-2018 at 05:28.

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    Quote Originally Posted by realdealblues View Post
    So many things I want to remark on but I haven't the time right now...maybe later...

    I'll only make one remark at the moment and that is that Bohm's digital remake of Beethoven's 9th from the 80's is no where near the level of the recording from his Vienna cycle. That one is soooooooo uninspired and dull with singing that isn't even close to the absolute perfection of his studio 9th. The rush at the final coda is the greatest one on record since Furtwangler! Bohm's studio 9th along with Fricsay and Wand's are to me the three greatest stereo recordings of Beethoven's 9th put on record! I cannot rate Bohm's 9th high enough and in my opinion has never been bettered, only equaled by a select few. The Vienna Philharmonics playing is incredible and anyone who truly wants to hear one of the top 9ths ever recorded needs to hear this recording!
    Realdealblues,

    Thank you for the Böhm shout-out! I've always felt the same about his Vienna 9th (along with Fricsay's and Wand). Have you heard Böhm 9th from 1954? It's one of my favorite live 9ths. And it doesn't hurt that is has Frick and Stich-Randall...https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8WEwp_6Psg

    Granate–sorry for the off-topic post.

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    And while we're on Bohm, I definitely find his 6th to be a reference recording, along with Monteux's. To me they stand a head above everyone else, as good as Walter, Karajan ('77), Wand (live '92), and Haitink (LSO) are.

    Otherwise I find Bohm uneven, with 1, 2, 4, and 8 heavy, dull and plodding. However 3, 5 (although I understand how people think it's too slow or "tame"), 6, 7, and 9 are among my favorite Beethoven recordings. Often admittedly slow, they still flow, and illuminate the structure of the symphonies like few, if any, others.
    Last edited by classfolkphile; Apr-24-2018 at 13:53.

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    The Bernstein VPO set has always had cold, harsh sound with steely strings - which is the worst thing about it - and makes it pretty unlistenable. None of the symphonies are terrible in performance, yet most have a number of things wrong with them that individually wouldn't matter but together keep me from enjoying the set (assuming one could ignore the sound). They are sometimes slack, occassionally ponderous or portentous, and yet sometimes they also seem like they're skating the surface. Too often there is too much of a difference in tempi between the slow and fast movements, as in the 7th, and most noticeably, in the 3rd which has a gut wrenching Marcia funebrae that just doesn't gell with the other movements. The 4th is an exception, however, the best of the group (as in NY), and the 8th is pretty good.

    Neither the Klemperer mono or stereo sets (I haven't heard the live Vienna one) impressed me. They're just too heavy and ponderous, with tinny sound (I also haven't heard the Pristine remastering). Again there is one exception in the stereo 3rd which I think is up there with the best.

    Despite the dates listed above, the Klemperer stereo, Ansermet, and Monteux sets were all recorded in the late 1950s, early 1960s. The Klemperer and Monteux in their earlier CD issues shared very thin high string sound. I have no desire to revisit the former but as I thought the latter a very good set, I've ordered the Decca Eloquence reissue and will report on it when I can.

    I have only heard the Ansermet 9th, remastered in it's current release, and find the strings thin there also. Whats more, the horns can be blatty, and the cellos, basses, and tympani sound like they've been cut in half. Yet the performance itself is very interesting. Different, with an exceptional clarity, and the sections better delineated than on most recordings. Tempi are well judged. I like it and am ordering the earlier symphonies.


    Edit: I forgot to mention that the Klemperer stereo 6th is superb in the first four movements but unfortunately dies in the last one. It's as if everyone was really tired after a long day and just dialed it in: extremely frustrating as it completely ruins what would otherwise be a tremendous performance.
    Last edited by classfolkphile; Apr-24-2018 at 19:32.

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    I love the Ansermet set. It's hard-driven (some might call it unrelenting) and Ansermet doesn't hang around but he's not afraid to tone it down in some movements and when he turns up the heat its an intoxicating ride. Not for everyone but it's how I like my LvB, sometimes. Give the Haitink LSO another try, Granate. It's a slow burner which eventually pays rewards (a perfect example is his account of the 9th which has a very average first movement and then gets better by each movement).

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    It's remarkable how much better the sound of the Schmidt-Isserstedt set is than the ones recorded less than 10 years earlier. Unfortunately I find the performances too measured, even stiff, with lots of staccato attacks: he apparently banned legato playing. So not to my taste despite the otherwise excellent playing and recording.

    Haitink also has excellent (and even better) sound. The results are varied. 4, 5, 6, and 8 are the best and competitive; some of the others skate the surface.

    The Kletzki set is highly frustrating. Beautifully and intelligently paced, with fine playing and mostly good, spacious, well separated sound. The basses, horns, and tympani are a joy. The problem is that the high strings and winds are often steely: it seriously mars what would otherwise unquestionably be one of the very best traversals.
    Last edited by classfolkphile; Apr-25-2018 at 02:36.

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    I am afraid you and I are singing from very different hymn sheets on this set of cycles, Granate! Yes there are some sound issues with the Kletzki set, but for me they are minor. I agree wholeheartedly this is a far higher standard group of cycles than your last perusal, and that the Thielemann is a bit meh. But for me the two here that stand out as excellent are the Jochum, which for me is the best of his three recorded sets, and the Kletzki. I am not quite sure why you think British orchestras have to automatically be inferior to the Vienna Phil; the LSO were at one of their peaks in the late '70s when they recorded the set with Jochum.

    You've poured water on my love for two of my top three "traditional" sets, and ignored my favourite HIP one so far. How much more different could two views be?

    One last chance to "get it right" with your final table

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    So I received the remastered Monteux set and am happy to report that the glare to the strings is gone, providing a more enjoyable experience. The sound is still somewhat limited in richness and spaciousness - as is common with recordings of it's age - but it is now easy to listen to, which was mostly not the case before.

    There is not a bad rendition in the whole set though some are better than others. For me, 1, 3, 6, and 8 are the best: the strings and horns are a bit richer.

    Oh yeah - the VPO (& Concertgebouw) vs. the LSO.

    The LSO also usually seems to not hold some notes for their full duration, resulting in a less than ideally flowing rendition of pretty much everything I've heard from them.
    Last edited by classfolkphile; Apr-28-2018 at 01:27.

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