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Thread: Merl's Beethoven Symphony Cycle Reviews Pt3

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Default Merl's Beethoven Symphony Cycle Reviews Pt3

    Part 3. Halfway through!

    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!

    Hickox / Northern Sinfonia
    beethoven hickox.jpg
    Using smaller forces for a Beethoven cycle can pay dividends for some and certainly gives us another take on this overly-familiar repertoire so you'd expect Hickox's set to be lithe, slightly underpowered and a bit dry. Instead what you get are performances that are a bit flabby and staid. Where Immerseel and Krivine go for brisker performances and lively string playing Hickox directs his troops far too slowly and delibearately. It's all a bit predictable. The performances are undeniably well-played but you have to questions Hickox's tempi. The best here is a well-realised 4th (that's still a little slow) and a very upright, English-sounding 9th. Nothing special or particularly bad. Just average. PS. If you do decide you need this set, buy the original discs and don't get the remastered version of these symphonies (purple box). Totally OTT remastering job.

    Grade: C

    Sanderling / Philharmonia
    beethoven sanderling.jpg
    Many people will be well aware of this cycle and many won't get it. It's been around since the early 80s (I think it was the last LvB cycle to appear on LP if my memory suits me). Kurt Sanderling was an excellent conductor and produced one of the great Brahms cycles with the Dresdeners. His approach to Beethoven was very much old-school. Like Asahina, Sanderling was very much cast from the Klemperer mold. As such performances are grand, slower but fluid (if that makes sense) and constantly moving forward. I've had this set many years and occasionally return to it, each time noticing some new detail in the performances. Like Kletzki's cycle it's the flow and the passion which emanates from Sanderling which embues these performances with a special something. Symphonies 2,4,5,7 and 8 are especially good and the 9th is good too. The 7th is a masterclass in how to make music dance without a superfast tempo. The only bummers, for me, come in a turgid 3rd and 6th. Soundwise the strings sound a little thin at louder volumes but don't let that put you off. If you like Klemperer's approach to these symphonies you'll love Sanderling too.

    Grade: B-

    RPO (Various conductors)
    beethoven wordsworth.jpg
    I often call this the 'Wordsworth' cycle as Barry Wordworth conducts a third of these performances (and it's easier to reference it as such). I picked this up quite a few years ago very cheaply and it's a good cycle. Highlight of the set is a tremendous 7th under Wordsworth (the RPO really whip up a storm in this one - if you like a 7th with some power you'll like this one). The 9th under the direction of Raymond Leppard has been doing the rounds for years on the budget CD market and it's a very good account with particularly impressive vocal contributions. Otherwise, Lochart's 2nd & 8th are serviceable, Herbig's Eroica is bold and impressive, Ermler's 6th is perfectly satisfying as is Gibault's traditional 5th and Wordsworth's 1st and 4th are very good. Basically it's a satisfactory cycle with an excellent, vibrant 7th. The only drawback is that the sound is uneven from performance to performance (balances between strings / brass, bass, percussion) but the sound is good or better, throughout. Decent if unspectacular library set.

    Grade: B-

    Fischer / RCO (DVD)

    beethoven fischer.jpg
    I'm not going to discuss camerawork or any visual aspect of these performances but concentrate on the music. Symphonies 1&2 are lovingly played with plenty of wit and charm (but I prefer Skrowaczewski's accounts of both). I'm not wholly convinced by Fischer's Eroica, finding it a tad on the slow side but he does build tension very well. Symphonies 4 and 5 are very good. I particularly like Fischer's 5th, a very convincing performance without bombast. The 6th is too slow for me. It's beautuifully played and lyrical but lacks some drive. Symphonies 7-9 come off the best here. The 7th is excellent (the best of the cycle) and It's moderate paced with a thrilling final movement. The 8th is dynamic and perfectly judged and the 9th is expansive but Fischer ramps it up as it goes on, with a delicious adagio and terrific final movement. Tempi throughout the set are often mid-paced (but he does speed up when necessary) but the inner detail and beauty of the RCO's playing are a joy. An impressive cycle even if I prefer Fischer's other Beethoven recordings with the Budapest FO.

    Grade: B

    Jordan / Orchestra of the Paris Opera (DVD)
    beethoven jordan.jpg
    Whoever said that French orchestras cant play Bethoven is an imbecile (check out Ansermet / Kubelik / Schuricht if you dont believe me). What we have here is an opera orchestra unfamiliar with symphonic works tearing through Beethoven's masterpieces and they do it very well indeed. All symphonies are very good or better and the standouts are a perfectly judged 3rd, 5th (the end of this one is superb), 7th and an effervescent and terrific 9th. This really is an excellent cycle. Jordan adopts slightly brisker speeds than moderate but it's all so well realised and brilliantly conducted. Jordan and the engineers get the balances right throughout. There's little exaggeration, rubato or ramping up of the tension - the orchestra manage this through some highly skillful playing. This set really caught me out as I expected little from it but it's very impressive, indeed. Btw, don't be put off by Jordan's very dull recent Beethoven accounts with the VPO (and they are very boring up to now) this is a totally different beast! Very highly recommended. That 9th is a killer.

    Grade: A-

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  3. #2
    Senior Member Robert Pickett's Avatar
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    I have over thirty Beethoven symphony cycles, and don't know a single one of these.

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