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Thread: Merl's Beethoven Symphony Cycle Reviews Pt4

  1. #1
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Default Merl's Beethoven Symphony Cycle Reviews Pt4

    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!

    Menuhin / Sinfonia Varsovia
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    The Sinfonia Varsovia are a lively, agile and enthusiastic ensemble. They may not be the BPO but they produce some lovely sounds for Menuhin, who recorded this live cycle in the mid-90s. I have the individual discs for this but it was repackaged by Warner Apex and may still be available elsewhere at a budget price (the last time I looked it was around £10 on Amazon). If it is buy it! If you liked Menuhin's unfussy and lively way with Schubert (I did!) then this could be the set for you. Most readings are brisk (but nowhere near metronome), lively and thoroughly enjoyable, especially in the 2nd, 4th and 8h. My favourite account here, though, is the Pastoral, which is just a gorgeous account and one of my favourite 6ths (very similar to Asknenazy's). However, there's nothing poor here (although the 9th isn't up to the standard of the others, IMO) and the sheer joy of the music-making make this a great value set if you can pick it up cheap. One quibble. Because these are live performances there's unnecessary audience applause at the start of each disc which can be very annoying (why did they do it?). If you can live with it the readings are definitely worthwhile.

    Grade: B

    Edlinger & Halasz / Zagreb Philharmonia & Czecho-Slovak RSO
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    Normally I wouldn't have included this cycle but it's often available for under £5 (I got it for less than £2) on Ebay. If you want a basic starter set you really can't go wrong with this one. I just wish they'd used Edlinger and the Zagreb Philharmoia for the whole cycle as I don't like Halasz's way with symphonies 3&6. I fnd his Eroica flat and uninspring and the Pastoral a bit schmaltzy (although it is a serviceable performance, tbf). Of the rest they are ok performances, with a slightly recessed but acceptable sound. The quality of the Zagreb orchestra is 2nd tier (or maybe even 3rd) but they move at a quick tempo and produce lively, rugged performances that lack a bit of depth in string tone but have power elsewhere. Best of the cycle include a very engaging rustic HIP-like 5th and a very spirited and rewarding 9th which I like a lot. Hardly the bees knees but perfectly adequate and a bargain if you can get it for a few quid (just for that 9th).

    Grade: C

    Morris / LSO
    beethoven morris.jpg
    This is a set that I'd heard but never owned until recently, when I picked it up on download for less than £1 online (massive bargain). If you haven't heard it think old, Teutonic Beethoven a la Furtwangler. However, this is a rather simplistic view and Morris is certainly quicker than Furtwangler in most symphonies but what I'm hinting at is these are 'traditional' Germanic performances - dark, hefty, big and chunky. Yet in the big, odd-numbered symphonies (apart from an excellent 1st) I find Morris and the LSO lacking in pulse, sometimes, and artificially trying to put too much drama and fire into the music-making. I'm much more impressed with his even-numbered performances which are far more relaxed and enjoyable. He doesn't push hard and his broader tempi suit the fluidity of the LSO's playing perfectly. Whatever this is a good set but Blomstedt and the Dresden Staatskapelle or Bohm and the VPO do it far, far better. If it's still avaivable for the 99 cents download then grab it. It's well worth 10x that.

    Grade: B-

    Blomstedt / Leipzig Gewandhaus
    beethoven blomstedt.jpg
    It's hard to talk about Blomstedt's 2nd cycle without mentioning either his first cycle in Dresden or Chailly's set with the Gewandhaus. Yet comparison of this cycle and his earlier one reveal that the latest one broadly adheres to Beethoven's metronome markings whereas the earlier one was mid-paced and traditional. However, Blomstedt isn't afraid to slow it down when he feels he needs to so his Pastoral, for example, is more relaxed in the first movement than Chailly's. I lived with this set for a few weeks, in the car, and although it is very well-played there is something about the recording and the acoustics that I'm not sure about. Where Chailly is brighter and better balanced the engineers produce a bassier, more bleneded sound for Blomstedt, with a lack of clout in percussion, and it doesn't work as well for me. It's a very good set with lots of very good performnces, especially the 4th, 7th and 8th, but give me Chailly for speed and Blomstedt's Dresden set for balance and power over it, anyday. I might come back to this in the future but for now it doesn't quite do it for me. What a shame.

    Grade: B

    Jarvi / Bremen
    beethoven jarvi.jpg
    Jarvi's pared-down chamber orchestra rip through all 9 symphonies at a pace with HIP interepreations big on impulse and drive. The forward propulsion of these performances makes them all engaging, however some are a little more succesful than others. Of special joy to me are an invigourating 4th, a well-gauged Pastoral, a madcap 8th and a lithe and exceptional Eroica. All the other performances here are very good at least, bar from a slightly underpowered 9th (you know I like my 9ths big and bold) however, even here, he whips up a great deal of joy in the 2nd movement and the adagio is lovely. There's no doubting the band give it their all but there is still something lacking in the choir....the heft of the big-chorus best Ninths...Beethoven's big vision....whatever! I still like it a lot. It's right up there just behind Immerseel in the HIP stakes. The recorded sound is extremely striking on first listen but the acoustic is a tiny bit reverberant when played loud but this may be my audio equipment. Highly recommended.

    Grade: B+
    Last edited by Merl; Jul-04-2018 at 10:34.

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  3. #2
    Senior Member Robert Pickett's Avatar
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    I have both Menuhin and Morris here. Both are very good!

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