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Thread: Merl's Beethoven Symphony Cycle Review Pt2

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Default Merl's Beethoven Symphony Cycle Review Pt2

    And here's Part 2 (sorry I had to split these reviews into 5s or 6s so I could include a picture of each cycle)

    C Satisfactory cycle. Ok, but nothing to shout about
    B- Good cycle but flawed (see decriptions in thread).
    B Good standard. A decent library set or better.
    B+ Very good set. Some very impressive performances. Well worth investing in.
    A- Excellent set just missing a little something to take it to the top of the pile but all performances very good or better.
    A* Wow! Currently the cream of the crop out there in LvB Cycleland. Buy, borrow or listen, now!

    Albrecht / Yomiuri
    beethoven alrecht.jpg
    I came to this Exton cycle knowing very little about either conductor or orchetra. What did I take away? Well that this is a lot better than I imagined. You can hear Gerd Albrecht's vision. He's going for a more modern-sounding Beethoven cycle but he doesn't quite pull it off. In fact this is very similar in vision to Blomstedt's latest cycle with Leipzig. There's some very good playing from Japan's 'newspaper orchestra' but they lack the skill of a top-flight ensemble and the odd-numbered symphonies come off slightly the better. Albrecht's approach is usually to play a little quicker than the traditional sets but he's not afraid to slow things down too (he gets the pace of the 6th just right for me). I've heard Kobayashi in performances with the same orchestra and he gets a totally unrestrained sound from them (to the point of being riotous on occasion) but Albrecht reels them in a little. If you're looking for LvB in very good sound with some impressive performances (3rd, 7th) you wont go much wrong here but it could have been even better.

    Grade: B

    Asahina / Osaka
    beethoven asahina.jpg
    Asahina is better known for his very good Bruckner cycles but he's recorded 7 full cycles of Beethoven (most of which were only available in Japan). I own 3 of them (Cycles 4,5 & 7) but the cycle I'm discussing here is the last one he did with the Osaka Philharmonic and issued by Exton. Amazingly Asahina was 92 when this cycle was completed and at times you can hear a little bit of slowing (especially in the 9th). The sound is very Furtwangler-esque (he was a huge admirer of Furtwangler after meeting him). It is big, bold, old, grand Beethoven. It's stately and solid and the playing of the Osaka Philharmonic is certainly very good but they aint no BPO. At times there's a hint of Klemperer here too (another conductor he greatly admired) and the odd-numbered symphonies fare best but he doesn't fall into the trap of playing them too slowly (unlike Klemperer was prone to in later years). His 7th is a masterclass of how to create tension. The performances are uniformly tight, well recorded and beautifully played.

    Grade: B

    Krivine / Chambre Philharmonique
    beethoven krivine.jpg
    This is another set that I had to think long and hard about. There's lots of energy on show in Krivine's accounts. Symphony 7 and 8 bristle with energy are are superb here although 2 & 4 are equally impressive. However, there are flaws in this cycle that stop me placing it at the top of my HIP list. Unlike Immerseel, Krivine's strings sound very thin in some symphonies (especially the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 9th) and then there's the timpani. Oh dear! I love my Beethoven timpani (the harder / noisier / tighter the sound, the better for me) but the Chambre Philharmonique's timpanist seems to have brought an orange box. In some places it sounds ridiculous and in others you can barely hear it. However, I'm sounding like I don't rate this set but I do. I just find it frustrating. Elsewhere the sound is very good and the woodwind playing is just lovely throughout the set. I don't like the recording of the 9th at all. The first movement sounds scratchy and slight and after that it just doesn't catch fire. Flawed with some great moments. Immerseel does it all much better, IMO.

    Grade B+

    Rattle / BPO
    Beethoven rattle.jpg
    I'll skip Rattle's first VPO set (which was actually very good apart from a poor 5th and awful Pastoral) and skip to his latest and better cycle with the BPO. What to say? Well it's Rattle so there's a degree of micro-management that I feel slightly interferes with the rhythm but it's a small quibble. You can take Karajan from the BPO but his ghost is still there. Listen to Rattle's 7th and you'll hear the old BPO in small patches (nowhere near as legato-laden as the days with HvK but still unmistakably them). After the money spent on this set it's obviously beautifully recorded and the playing of the BPO is immaculate. Unlike HvK, however, the one thing missing under Rattle is the pulse at times. This doesnt affect the first two symnphonies (where Rattle is superb), the 4th (excellent account) and the 7th (best of the set for me). The 8th and 9th are very good but Rattles meddling certainly slightly hinders the Eroica and especially the 5th (I'm not convinced by Rattle's 5th in any of his sets). However, there's no doubting this is a very good cycle. The Pastoral comes off way better this time around but still doesn't convince.

    Grade: B+

    Maag / Padova
    beethoven maag.jpg
    I had this recommended to me by someone on a forum many years ago and finally bought it only a few years back. I'm so glad I did. No one who hears these performances will probably recommend one performance as the 'best in show' but each one is excellent in its own way. Maag makes each performance dance with speeds that sound 'just right' (mostly mid-paced or quicker) and he knows how to convey the warmth of these pieces by sensible rhythms, a great line and a joie de vivre that make symphonies 1,2,4 and 8 particularly engaging but there's not a duffer here, tbh. Maag gets very spirited performances out of the largely unknown Padova forces and his phrasing is spot-on. A lovely cycle. If you like Wand's set you'll dig this one too.

    Grade: A-

    Kobayashi / Czech PO
    Those who are not familiar with Mr. Kobayashi should know that he's a strange character. He makes a lot of noise (humming, shouting and grunting are not uncommon in some of his recordings). However, he's barely audible throughout most performances here (apart from some heavy sniffing between some movements) and even when he is (the 9th) it's not offputting. Kobayashi's Beethoven with his native Yomiuri Nippon Orchestra has not always been successful, either being bland or OTT but here he gets the Czech Philharmonic and what a joy they are. They know this repertoire like the back of their hands but with Kobayashi sometimes tempi can be a little wayward so the Czechs keep Mr. K in check with some beautiful restrained woodwind and string playing. Like Asahina this is big-band Beethoven, immaculately played and a mid-paced affair but it's very enjoyable. Recorded sound (as usual for Exton) is realistic and big. Symphonies 1,2 & 4 I find ok, 7 a little better but highlights include a very Bohm-ish Pastoral, a hearty 8th and a beefy Eroica and 5th.

    Grade: B

    Linked threads
    Merl's Beethoven Symphony Cycle Reviews Pt1
    Last edited by Merl; Jul-03-2018 at 12:37.

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    Junior Member Konsgaard's Avatar
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    Is there going to be a part 3? I'm waiting to see your A*

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Konsgaard View Post
    Is there going to be a part 3? I'm waiting to see your A*
    Yes...........................................

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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    You've heard a lot of cycles that have eluded me (or I haven't bought due to price). Of the ones you've mentioned that I've actually heard, Krivine is my favorite.

    I'm intrigued by the Maag set; his Mozart with the same orchestra was superb. The whole set is a little pricey, so I'll sample with the single disc of 7 and 8, just bought via eBay.

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    Senior Member realdealblues's Avatar
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    I'd knock both Krivine and Rattle down to a B- or a C depending on the day. The rest I can agree with.

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