Banner: The symphonic suite Cantabile

Results 1 to 7 of 7

Thread: Merl's Beethoven Symphony Cycle Reviews Pt8

  1. #1
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2016
    Location
    Scotland
    Posts
    2,023
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default Merl's Beethoven Symphony Cycle Reviews Pt8

    D Unsatifactory or just boring
    C Satisfactory cycle. Ok, but nothing to shout about
    B- Good cycle but flawed (see descriptions 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!

    Ok, this is the last one for now. I'm officially Beethovened-out (well I say that.....). Anyway, I hope you've found these enjoyable. entertaining or informative. My thoughts on these will no doubt change in time as nothing is set in stone. So here goes...........

    Nelson / Ensemble Orchestral de Paris

    Another very recent acquisition and this time it's Chilean-born John Nelson's cycle with this Paris ensemble. This one's eluded me for some time but I'm glad I've finally got hold of it. Nelson's LvB has got some balls in places. The ensemble deliver some high-octane stuff in a colourful way but therein lies the problem (I will clarify more in a minute). There's some really good things here so let's start with those. All recordings are clear and very well detailed (see Zinman). Performances of the 8th, 7th and 4th are very good (especially an effervescent 8th which is very winning) and the 9th is well delivered too (especially the 2nd movement - super timpani). Tempi are brisk for most (but not all) symphonies. The problem and frustration in this cycle is that Nelson rushes some movements (the presto of the 7th is a good example) or ramps up the tension and forces the pace or plays with the dynamics in other places (try the Eroica or the 2nd for examples). The 5th is a disappointment. Don't get me wrong, it's a well-played, well-recorded set but like Zinman (and it is like Zinman's cycle soundwise in many ways) it just misses the mark by a fraction. Close but no cigar. Hear that 8th though.

    Grade: B-

    Lan Shui / Copenhagen PO

    A pared-down orchestra (70-strong), lean textures, metronome-brisk rhythms.....yeah you think youve heard it all before? Well think again. I've only had this cycle a month and instantly fell in love with it simply because of the sheer joy of the music-making. Lan Shui ellicits superb playing from the Copenhagen PO and every single moment of these performances bring a smile to my face. Every symphony is at least very good and most are excellent. Whether it's the glorious reference performance of the Eroica, the glowing, ebullient 8th, the quite exquisite 4th or the first movement of the 7th that would have had me stood on my chair whooping with approval even with 3 movements left to play, there's so much to admire. Immerseel used to be my go-to HIP set of this style but I'm currently loving this one even more. Fantastic recording with crisp rhythms and wide dynamics abound, this is sylistically very close to Jarvi's set but it trumps that one too. Even the 9th (the bane of HIP sets) gets a dynamic and weighty performance. One word of warning, this set is in 3 volumes so it's fairly expensive to buy. Excellent stuff. Buy it, borrow it but hear it.

    Grade: A- (I'm not going totally OTT on this yet)

    Rogner / Yomiuri
    beethoven rogner.jpg
    Yet another cycle featuring Japan's 'newspaper orchestra'. The Japanese love their Beethoven and here they had principal conductor Heinz Rogner (remember his very good Bruckner cycle?) at the helm for recordings made from 1986-94. Issued in the late 90s this is an uber-rare set and I was intrigued to hear it after the positive impact of Rogner's Bruckner, many years back. So let's start with tempi. Well they're disapointingly moderate or even a little broader, as nearly all recordings made with Japenese orchestras are. No shame in that but what of the recordings? Well they're a bit distant and lacking bass. So the performances must be great? Well no. You see, this is just yet another fairly bland, mid-paced Beethoven-by-numbers exercise. Yes there's little to dislike, the Eroica is very good and the Pastoral has some nice touches but elsewhere it's just all 'meh'. Rogner's Beethoven just never catches fire as well-played as it is. The worst of all is a 9th so characterless and bland that I actually couldn't be bothered listening to most of it for fear of nodding off. At least Albrecht pushed and bullied this pedestrian orchestra into speeding up and coaxed some liveliness out of them. Here Rogner seems resigned to let them bring things to a standstill at times. It's not inspiring stuff. This set goes for silly prices on the internet due to its rarity. I'd say there's a good reason for its rarity........know anyone with a copy of this (apart from me)? No, neither do I. Wonder why?

    Grade: C

    Karajan / Philharmonia

    I don't think Granate reviewed this one so I'm going to. Karajan's 'forgotten', historic, 50s first cycle of Beethoven's nine is a damn fine cycle. There, I've said it! Whether, as some on this site have said, I'd view it as his best is very doubtful as his first stereo set with the BPO (1963) is still the benchmark to measure all others against, for me. However, I can understand why this cycle is well liked. I'll deal with the bad points first. The sound is monoaural on most of this cycle which doesn't hamper it that much but, because of its age, there's a thinness in the upper strings, bass reproduction is barely adeqauate and timpani sound a bit woolly. Really that's where the negatives stop because the performances themselves are very good. Best of the bunch is a brilliant, electrifying 5th, an expertly handled Eroica, a rock-solid 7th, grand 9th and largely excellent (bar one movement) 8th but there's no dud in the set. What is intriguing is the difference in sound between Karajan's later homegenised BPO and the more 'unruly' Philharmonia.The Philharmonia's horns are on fire throughout the set, especially in the 3rd and 5th and there's some lovely pieces of woodwind playing smattered throughout the Pastoral. This is not latterday Karajan. It's all quite quirky and you can hear Karajan is trying to control his forces and he manages, by and large, but little touches from the Philharmonia give this a more eclectic vibe. As I said, some will prefer this rawer, more spontaneous cycle but for me it's just not up there with the BPO. However, you can pick it up fairly cheaply so try it and see what you think. IT could be the Karajan you've always wanted.

    Grade: B

    Scherchen / Lugano RTSI

    This set is not to be confused with Scherchen's eclectic 50s mono Vienna and RPO set. Incidentally, I have just upgraded my old Archipel CDs of that set to the much better Andromeda transfers (remastered 24-bit) and they really do shine. Anyway, enough of that set and on to this one. I'll start with the negatives and the first is the sound and you would expect these 1965 live stereo recordings to be of better quality than the earlier 50s mono set but, truth be told, they aren't at all. The sound is boxy,'bathroomy' and just serviceable. Then there's the orchestra. The Swiss-Italian Radio Orchestra were no VPO or RLPO (for that matter) and there's some ragged playing throughout. However, much of this negativity is outweighed by Scherchen's readings. One of the original 'speed-merchants' Scherchen often adopts tempi that were shocking for audiences of the time (used to the slowed-down Wagnerian accounts of Furtwangler et al - a man whose Beethoven he often called 'terrible', LOL) and largely in-line with Beethoven's metroname markings. The first movement of the 6th is taken at a furious pace yet under Scherchen it never sounds rushed and his phrasing is so different to others in this repertoire. Scherchen often slows it down towards the end of each movement before unleashing the next. This works especially well in the Eroica and the 7th, both taken at a rather fast clip but the performance that's the most shocking here is the 8th. Scherchen's 'chop-chop, keep moving' approach to Beethoven and the 8th, in particular, was always fast but this has to be the fastest you've ever heard the 8th and the 7th is similarly frenetic (if you've heard Dudamel's 7th on DG it's similarly conceived). The presto of the 7th has got to be one of the swiftest I've ever heard! It's truly invigorating and yet he pulls it all off quicker than anyone (even Beethoven's metronome in the 8th). In short the limitations of the recording are outweighed by the sheer joyfulness of the accounts. Oh, I wish this had been recorded nowadays. It would almost certainly be one of my go-to sets. A must-hear cycle.

    Grade: C (sound) A- (performance)

    So there you go! Btw, there are plenty of soundbites of some these on YouTube if you want to listen (especially the Lan Shui and Nelson sets).

    Merl's Beethoven Symphony Cycle Reviews Pt7
    Merl's Beethoven Symphony Cycle Reviews Pt6
    Merl's Beethoven Symphony Cycle Reviews Pt5
    Merl's Beethoven Symphony Cycle Reviews Pt4
    Merl's Beethoven Symphony Cycle Reviews Pt3
    Merl's Beethoven Symphony Cycle Review Pt2
    Merl's Beethoven Symphony Cycle Reviews Pt1
    Last edited by Merl; Jul-31-2018 at 18:40.

  2. Likes Malx, Larkenfield, Templeton and 2 others liked this post
  3. #2
    Senior Member Malx's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2017
    Location
    Scotland
    Posts
    901
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    I read with interest your comments on the Nelson set - on the whole I consider them fair.
    I won't argue with your thoughts on the 5th but as that is the Beethoven Symphony along with the 9th I play least often it concerns me little if the performance isn't top drawer.
    In the lesser Symphonies (if such a description is fair) 1, 2, 4, 7, & 8 I find the performances and recordings to my taste - swift with clarity of the inner parts and played with a little bit of jollity.
    I also find the Eroica to be a very decent performance.

    May I thank you for an enlightening series of posts over the last month or so. I for one have enjoyed greatly reading your thoughts and opinions of the sets included.
    Last edited by Malx; Jul-31-2018 at 21:35.

  4. Likes Merl liked this post
  5. #3
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2016
    Location
    Scotland
    Posts
    2,023
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Malx View Post
    I read with interest your comments on the Nelson set - on the whole I consider them fair.
    I won't argue with your thoughts on the 5th but as that is the Beethoven Symphony along with the 9th I play least often it concerns me little if the performance isn't top drawer.
    In the lesser Symphonies (if such a description is fair) 1, 2, 4, 7, & 8 I find the performances and recordings to my taste - swift with clarity of the inner parts and played with a little bit of jollity.
    I also find the Eroica to be a very decent performance.

    May I thank you for an enlightening series of posts over the last month or so. I for one have enjoyed greatly reading your thoughts and opinions of the sets included.
    Thanks Malx. That's really kind of you. I've got about 10 more cycles that are incomplete at the moment so I'm not reviewing those (Cambreling, Dausgaard, etc). In 6 months time (or so) hopefully those will be complete so I can review them. There's also lots of cycles I didnt touch on but I'll include those in the next batch but that definitely wont be soon.
    Last edited by Merl; Jul-31-2018 at 21:44.

  6. Likes Robert Pickett, classfolkphile liked this post
  7. #4
    Senior Member Granate's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    Spain
    Posts
    2,072
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default



    This is the only Beethoven set I own (because it was included in the Karajan remastered edition I bought before signing up to Talk Classical) and I had written reviews about the set back in 2016. It was a mixed bag for me but over anything else, his No.9 is a work of art, on the level of the 63 recording.

  8. Likes Merl liked this post
  9. #5
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2016
    Location
    Scotland
    Posts
    2,023
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Granate View Post
    It was a mixed bag for me but over anything else, his No.9 is a work of art, on the level of the 63 recording.
    Did Karajan ever do a less than excellent 9th, a less than solid Eroica or a less than powerful 5th? You can say what you want about him but by God was he consistent.

  10. Likes Varick liked this post
  11. #6
    Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2017
    Posts
    56
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Thank you again Merl, for another informative read. It is much appreciated.

  12. Likes Merl liked this post
  13. #7
    Senior Member Varick's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2014
    Posts
    587
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    I love Herbie's '63. It is one of the benchmarks of Beethoven symphonies, but do not discount his '77. It is also outstanding. Right up there with the '63 but with better sound. Especially the 9th.

    V
    Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

  14. Likes Merl liked this post

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •