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Thread: Granate's Beethoven Symphony Challenge - Table 6 (Germany 2)

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    Senior Member Granate's Avatar
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    Default Granate's Beethoven Symphony Challenge - Table 6 (Germany 2)

    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 finalists 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 6 – German Beethoven Cycles (Dresden, Berlin, Leipzig…)

    Conductor Orchestra Release
    Barenboim, Daniel West-Eastern Divan Orchestra 2012, Decca
    Barenboim, Daniel Staatskapelle Berlin 1999, WC
    Blomstedt, Herbert Staatskapelle Dresden 1980, Brilliant
    Chailly, Riccardo Gewandhausorchester Leipzig 2011, Decca
    Davis, Colin Staatskapelle Dresden 1995, Philips
    Kempe, Rudolf Münchner Philharmoniker 1973, WC
    Konwitschny, Franz Gewandhausorchester Leipzig 1963, Eterna
    Masur, Kurt Gewandhausorchester Leipzig 1975, Philips
    Skrowaczewski, Stanisław RSO Saarbrücken 2007, Oehms

    Conductor Symphonies Orchestra Release
    Celibidache, Sergiu Nos.3,4,8,9 Münchner Philharmoniker 1996, WC
    Sinopoli, Giuseppe No.9 Staatskapelle Dresden 1997, DG



    I’m very sorry for my own delay in this table. I think this was written 3 weeks ago in Spanish. I was in no hurry for the results and I have already made the playoffs with one winner that will be reviewed for the third time in the Beethoven Final.

    The level of this Table was almost suicidal. My impressions were very similar to Table 2 (USA) but with more quality in the middle positions of the table and less quality in the two winners. My hopes for three praised sets ended here for unimaginable reasons: they competed against one other and never performed as well as the two winners. It was easy. None of those three got any price because of their highs and lows, not even boarding to the playoffs.

    The Quadraphonic cycle by Rudolf Kempe in Münich for EMI and the Digital Colin Davis cycle in Dresden were by far the lowest scoring cycles. The thin remasters have done no favour for Kempe’s efforts. I don’t know if there were any, because I hint that the engineers were careful enough to get a very thin sound from the orchestra. The sound and the pace are unsatisfactory. The strings are very thin and when the brass joins them, the feeling couldn’t be more similar to shades of grey. The Davis Dresden cycle fails in the same characteristics as other Digital cycles: lack of point or goals. They are lucky the sound is brilliant and bold, but I have no good feeling either from the pace or the orchestral palette.

    I have a more positive approach towards the first, Analogue cycle conducted by Kurt Masur in Leipzig. I’m moved both by the sound quality and his reliable baton skills. In some symphonies, this qualities weren’t enough to avoid the last position in the rank, but his performances were so invariable that in a matter of decimals he could grasp the top 3 or the bottom place. There’s no symphony that shines more than the others but I cannot ignore such a cold-blooded No.3. Very decent average score.



    Now it is the time when I address the four cycles that ‘fought’ against one another to score a notable mark, but both this competition and the quality difference with the two winner sets, made them loose everything on the way. I didn’t get curious for a second listen, because their average marks were quite notable but too weak next to my most praised sets here.

    The two Barenboim cycles, the Blomstedt in Dresden one and the briskly digital conducted by Riccardo Chailly offer a very particular sound: ambient (Barenboim Decca), precision and excessive balance (Blomstedt Dresden), spontaneity and brilliance (Barenboim Berlin), and cleanness and excessive lush (Chailly Leipzig).



    Beethoven
    9 Symphonies
    Soile Isokoski, Rosemarie Lang, Robert Gambill, René Pape
    Chor der Deutschen Staatsoper Berlin
    Staatskapelle Berlin
    Daniel Barenboim
    Warner Classics (1999/2017 Reissue Edition)


    Barenboim’s performances are not generally very different but in certain symphonies (1, 2, 4, 6, 7) the praise and criticism switches between both sets: spontaneous, lively and especially irregular.



    Beethoven
    9 Symphonies
    Helena Döse, Marga Schiml, Peter Schreier, Theo Adam
    Rundfunkchor Leipzig
    Staatskapelle Dresden
    Herbert Blomstedt
    Brilliant Classics (1980/2012 Reissue Edition)


    The inexpensive set by the famous Staatskapelle Dresden conducted by Herbert Blomstedt speaks a clear language: voluminous, flamboyant, scarcely meticulous, granitic and frozen-paced. Why do I hear all instruments play in forte at the same time?! The results in my opinion are terribly unbalanced between symphonies. There have been lots of highs and lows and an early feeling it wasn’t worth my dedication, or that I shouldn’t care so much. The set’s average is very notable but nowhere near the winner status given by some members. My most praised tries were No.4 and No.7.



    Beethoven
    9 Symphonies
    Katerina Beranova, Lilli Paasikivi, Robert Dean Smith, Hanno Müller-Brachmann
    MDR Rundfunkchor
    Gewandhauschor
    Gewandhauskinderchor
    Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
    Riccardo Chailly
    Decca (2011)


    And finally, on the verge of the playoffs, the Chailly contemporary cycle became a “sleeper”. The Gewandhausorchester Leipzig in this Beethoven context was the orchestra that better took advantage of the new Beethoven edition adding the “original” metronome marking. The performances of this set are rather good but the sound becomes slightly plain at times. I understand the concept but I have listened too many sets to feel moved by this particular one. From No.6 I started to enjoy much more the performances, highlighting the No.8.



    Now it’s time to address my two winning cycles of this Table 6, which average level is good enough to reach the Final. In spite of their distinctive style and performance quality in each era, they offer a very positive regularity. They don’t move me as much as other cycles if I recall correctly. The Final competition will be important to see if these cycles are worth the purchase.



    Beethoven
    9 Symphonies
    Annete Dasch, Daniela Sindram, Christian Elsner, Georg Zeppenfeld
    Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
    Radio-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken
    Stanisław Skrowaczewski
    Oehms (2007)


    The modern cycle by Stanisław Skrowaczewski in Saarbrücken, made after the famous Bruckner Symphony set, was a last-minute addition to the challenge and an astonishing surprise for the sound quality, its brilliance and especially his brisk performances. My favourite symphonies of the cycle were No.3 and No.7, with vibrant conducting, without the honour and prestige of top-tier orchestras in Europe. I mustn’t turn a blind eye on the mannerisms of the winds in Symphony No.5’s last movement. It deserves a second chance as a respectable Top 10.



    Beethoven
    9 Symphonies
    Ingeborg Wenglor, Urusula Zollenkopf, Hans-Joachim Rotzsch, Theo Adam
    Rundfunkchor Leipzig
    Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
    Franz Konwitschny
    Berlin Classics (1963/2016 Remastered Edition)


    One of the least mentioned cycles in the past has gained a lot of popularity in the last decade, with two different releases. That’s the analogue set made in Leipzig by Franz Konwitschny. The last Eterna remaster has a brilliant sound, but it doesn’t remind me of contemporaries and contenders like Karajan in DG, Cluytens in EMI or Decca, but the Böhm Vienna cycle shares some points. The tempi is generally relaxed, with rich string textures and a fair amount of harshness. I enjoy a lot the dynamism in the conducting, although in terms of analogue sound quality it’s in disadvantage against digital. He has been able to become the top 1 in both No.5 and No.6.

    Direkt till Finale: Skrowaczewski RSOS & Konwitschny LGO



    I’m just about to begin the Beethoven Final with 10 sets and several days ago I celebrated the playoffs with four cycles. They delivered one winner that will fight against the others in the final.

    The playoffs consisted of a second competition between four sets that weren’t marked from 0-10 with decimals, but a rank draw of 1, 2, 3 and 4+1 points per symphony. The points are summed and the set with more points goes to the final. Two of the cycles actually competed for that final slot but one of them achieved comfortably the mark. I will only reveal the results of this playoffs after the Final ones.

    Final:

    • Ansermet OSR
    • Bernstein NYPO
    • Karajan BPO 63
    • Konwitschny LGO
    • Monteux WPO-LSO
    • Schmidt-Isserstedt WPO
    • Skrowaczewski RSOS
    • Szell ClO
    • Wand SOdNDR
    • Playoffs’ winner


    Playoffs:

    • Böhm WPO
    • Cluytens BPO
    • Klemperer PO
    • Kubelík DG
    Last edited by Granate; Jun-10-2018 at 22:21.

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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Nice summary, Granate.

    Beethoven
    9 Symphonies
    Helena Döse, Marga Schiml, Peter Schreier, Theo Adam
    Rundfunkchor Leipzig
    Staatskapelle Dresden
    Herbert Blomstedt
    Brilliant Classics (1980/2012 Reissue Edition)
    BTW, Blomstedt has re-recorded the symphonies with the Gewandhausorchester. Not sure how it compared to his earlier Dresden set, since I've never heard it.

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    I have both Beethoven cycles by Blomstedt. The new(er) one is much quicker but it's nowhere near as monumental or as good as his first one with Dresden (I've done a brief review for my round-up of LvB cycles which will follow soon). Although I agree about a couple of the cycles you've reviewed, Granate, i'm definitely not with you on the majority of this challenge as some of these are amongst my favourite sets. I'll start with the agreement and that's on the Skrowaczewski set. In my opinion it's one of the great Beethoven cycles. I came to it late but I'm so glad I got it cos it's absolutely superb. Perfectly judged, brisk speeds and fantastic sound. What is so satifying about it is it never sounds rushed, pushed or unnatural. In short Skrowaczewski absolutely nails every performance and the middle symphonies are an absolute joy. I actually reviewed it in my round-up as you said you weren't going to review it. Btw, I'll post my round-up in the next few days.
    Ok, now my disagreements. Strangely enough I've been playing the Konwitschny remastered set in the car and although it's quite forceful it's not really very powerful. Konwitschny pushes and pulls the orchestra all over the place but never quite gets the rhythm right. To me it shares some similarities in tempi to Cluytens' decent set but with a poorer, scratchier sound and some dodgy dynamics and rough-house playing and conducting. It also contains a few rather turgid performances, especially the 9th (that first movement is dire and so slow) and the Eroica. Put it this way, it certainly wouldn't be in my top 50 Beethoven cycles. Compared to the Chailly set it's very dull stuff. IMO, Chailly's set is one of the most exciting cycles ever committed to disc. The playing of the Gewandhaus is absolutely first-rate and it's capped by marvellous crisp sound across the board. The 7th and 8th are terrific and amongst the best in the catalogue.
    If this was my challenge it wuold be difficult for me to pick a winner between Blomstedt's big-band, ballsy, bassy Dresden set, Chailly's thrilling pacey cycle and Skrowaczewski's immaculately played, conducted and recorded set. All are top-tier LvB sets which I play often. Just behind this (and I mean just behind) I'd have Barenboim's big-boned and excellently played cycle (another very satisfying set). After that if would probably be Masur's first, analogue cycle (decent overall set) and after that I wouldn't be bothered. The others have their odd moments and none are bad (although the Kempe set is bland and insipid). Davis is well recorded but unremarkable except for a cracking 8th, Konwitschny is all over the place and Barenboim's 2nd set with the Divan is not too bad but far inferior to the Berlin cycle. But hey, it's your challenge and we all hear different things. Thanks for the reviews even if I haven't always agreed with you. You've put lot of work into this.
    Last edited by Merl; Jun-11-2018 at 18:29.

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    I haven't heard most of these cycles and don't much care for those I have.

    For Konwitschny, I've only heard Nos. 2 and 4, and although I liked them at first for their warmth and fullness, I eventually found them rough (as Merl says), and overly thick and ponderous.

    Blomstedt's Dresden set, IMO, has sound that is too steely and harsh, and is uneven in pacing and dynamics.

    The few I heard by Masur (first set?) some years ago were prosaic.

    Chailly is too driven.

    I like Barenboim's Berlin set, especially for it's sound but it is not a great one: too many symphonies are simply ordinary, if decent. Perhaps half good to very good, half so-so.

    I'll have to try the Skrowaczewski.
    Last edited by classfolkphile; Jun-15-2018 at 03:29.

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    I've heard all these cycles more times than I can count and other than we both seem to appreciate Skrowaczewski I would disagree with everything else.

    Kempe does suffer from less than perfect engineering but the performances themselves are wonderful. Big hearted and warm with passion.

    I take issue with a few of Barenboim's adding dynamics where there are none in the score during his traversal with the Staatskapelle Berlin but otherwise it's a fantastic cycle with great sound and a very unique interpretation. His later cycle is no where near as good or inspired and is best left forgotten.

    Chailly has some of the best sound put on disc and there is absolutely nothing plain about it. There is no finer set making an attempt at the metronome markings. It's not everyone's cup of tea because not everyone understands and/or likes the metronome markings, but there is never any rushing on Chailly's part. Everything moves with perfect flow from one movement to the next. It's an engineering marvel in my book and for anyone wishing to hear the Symphonies played using the metronome markings as a guide you will not find a better set.

    Blomstedt's Dresden cycle is about as fine as you can get with some wonderful brass and woodwind playing. You propose the question why you are are hearing everything playing at Forte? I can't fathom what you are hearing, but I can only speculate and say what you're hearing is a properly balanced orchestra. You're hearing each instrument clearly which is what a great conductor and orchestra can do especially with good recording engineers in which case it might appear that eveything is forte when it's actually not. I have the scores for the 9 symphonies memorized and Blomstedt has fidelity to the score with just the right amount of imagination which is what makes a great performance in my opinion and these are without a doubt great performances. You can always go back and say, well I wish the 5th had a little more intensity like Kleiber or whatever but these are still great performances. No complete cycle will ever be perfect and fit in with every persons ideals of how the symphonies should sound and that's the way it should be, but I can't believe that if anyone truly were to sit down and study Beethoven, follows his scores and/or read first hand accounts of Beethoven's performances, how that someone would not appreciate these performances and find them great unless they just couldn't get past the digital recorded sound for whatever reason is beyond me.

    Masur and Konwitschny have moments like any cycle but are largely forgettable.
    Last edited by realdealblues; Jun-15-2018 at 16:37.

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    Senior Member Fritz Kobus's Avatar
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    I have not heard any of the listed cycles, butt have toyed with buying the Blomstedt set a few times. I do have two different Blomstedt Ninths, one of which is among my favorites (out of about 50 ninths in my collection).
    "My brothers, there's not a sinner in the world to whom the way of redemption is closed!"
    --Minne in Puccini's La Fanciulla del West.

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    I think the Blomstedt/Dresden is ideally recorded, I don't understand why you hear all the instruments playing at forte. Especially the 9th in that set is my favourite all-time 9th (and I own a lot of 9ths). The Barenboim/Staatskapelle set is also excellent, if I had to choose one set it would be either Blomdtest/Dresden, Wand/NDRSO or the Barenboim/Staatskapelle. The Skrowaczewski is also very, very fine.

    Of course, one should also mention the Gunter Wand set, which had been Gramophone's top recommendation for many years (when the magazine used to have a recommended recordings guide on the last pages), which is also in stellar sound.

    The Chailly is great for following the metronome markings as realdealblues mentions above. But to my ears there is something missing. Still, a breathtaking attempt, to have these tempi with a modern orchestra.

    Also, Blomstedt's latest cycle could be mentioned with the Gewandhaus. Again, uniformally excellent but I prefer the Dresden (more passionate accounts).

    Rattle's cycle with the Berlin Philharmonic is also very good, even though a bit middle-of-the-road.

    Finally, Thielemann's cycle with the Vienna Phil (OK, not a German orchestra) is perfectly executed but is rather lackluster.

    I forgot to mention Jansons cycle with the Bavarian RSO. For me this is the best cycle to have been recorded in recent years. Ok, again middle-of-the-road tempi but listen to the gorgeous playing of the Bavarians!!!

    I am a fanatic collector of Beethoven symphony sets and get really excited when a new one is released. Following, Skrowaczewski's success with the Shostakovich symphonies, I immediately emailed his label to suggest they record the Beethoven symphonies with the same forces. I will not hesitate to email another label when I sense that a specific conductor has potential for a great Beethoven set. I am not implying that they will listen to my advice, but why not try?

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    Senior Member Granate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Konsgaard View Post
    Of course, one should also mention the Gunter Wand set, which had been Gramophone's top recommendation for many years (when the magazine used to have a recommended recordings guide on the last pages), which is also in stellar sound.
    Hello T.A. Konsgaard. Thank you for your post. My thoughts about the Wand set are in Table 5 of this challenge, in another thread. This is only the sixth table of them...

    BTW. I've checked out your site and it looks amazing. These months I have been doing mainly Opera recording challenges, but also about Beethoven symphonies and revising my Bruckner reviews. If you are able to write such a text describing the new Jansons Bruckner 8, while I've only been able to write two single sentences about the recording (which I didn't like in comparison to others), I bow to you...
    Last edited by Granate; Jun-17-2018 at 18:49.

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