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Thread: Beethoven overtures

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    Member Gallus's Avatar
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    Default Beethoven overtures

    Who does the best collection of Beethoven overtures? I'm looking at Karajan's and Szell's, but the latter isn't quite comprehensive. Would you say all the overtures are of value to listen to?

    Also feel free to suggest individual recordings, listening right now to Fricsay's Egmont Overture on his famous recording of the 9th and enjoying it a lot.
    Last edited by Gallus; Sep-08-2018 at 02:28.

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gallus View Post
    Who does the best collection of Beethoven overtures? I'm looking at Karajan's and Szell's, but the latter isn't quite comprehensive. Would you say all the overtures are of value to listen to?

    Also feel free to suggest individual recordings, listening right now to Fricsay's Egmont Overture on his famous recording of the 9th and enjoying it a lot.
    I have Zinman's complete overtures (2 CDs). It's quite good and can be had for $5.00 used if you like. It's nice to have them all, but they are not all of the same superlative quality IMO. Top choices are the Leonore #3, Fidelio, Coriolan, Egmont, Creatures of Prometheus, and Consecration of the House. But of course you should have them all!



    Last edited by KenOC; Sep-08-2018 at 02:43.


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    I think I had Klemperer lp, back in the day....

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    Just recently bought Karajans overtures which I love. Full of life and fiery. The Egmont is my favourite.

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    Senior Member Robert Pickett's Avatar
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    Off the top of my head, I think I have four complete sets of these - and yes they are wonderful pieces - in my collection.

    Karajan (the standard set, I reckon. Predictably good, of course)
    Zinman - he's very exciting, but they tend to be breathless performances
    Chailly - all eleven are dotted around his symphony set from a few years back. If you think Zinman is breathless.....!
    Masur - The best of the lot!

    I would find it difficult to recommend any others, and I am not the biggest fan of the two super-fast sets above, but I very much like Masur, and you won't go wrong with Karajan. As to individual performances, beyond your mention of Szell, and Fricsay's Egmont too, there are too many to bring up!

    Yes, all eleven are worth having! That said, I don't necessarily see Creatures of Prometheus and Fidelio as relevant, as they both come lifted from larger works - a fine ballet and a giant of an opera - and they make more sense in their full context. Personally I don't find much to enjoy in Leonore 1 and 2, and Nameday is not a great piece, let's be honest!

    My favourites have to be, in order: Coriolan (head and shoulders above the others!), then of course Egmont, Leonore 3. Of the "minor" ones, I love King Stephen (and as with Egmont, the rest of the incidental music is well worth hearing!) Consecration of the House is not worth it apart from the brilliant overture, unless you wish to admire Beethoven for his recycling abilities!
    Last edited by Robert Pickett; Sep-08-2018 at 08:37.

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Personally id go down the individual performance route for the overtures. Markevitch's Overtures disc is a must-have and there are some great single performances by Szell and Chailly (they did them all but some are better than others). However, if you do want the complete set then KenOC's suggestion about Masur and Zinman are recommendable. Karajan is Karajan and you'll either love them or find them a bit homogenised (i love them). One of the cheapest options is probably Masur. You can pick up the complete set on a Phillips Duo double cd with Marriner's set of the dances and minuets making up the rest of the space. It may be OOP (not checked) but it is available on Amazon for download. For a bargain basement complete set Naxos recorded them all on two discs (vol.1 and 2) with Gunzenhauser and Drahos at the helm. Theyre decent, if unspectacular, recordings and can be picked up for a few quid each secondhand on Amazon or Ebay. As i said, id still seek out individual performances. Markevitch is definitely your man for the big ones, even if it may well be OOP, and you get two of the greatest performances of symphonies 5 and 8 ever made.

    515gWGBGqOL._SS500.jpg

    2707046-300x300.jpg

    Last edited by Merl; Sep-08-2018 at 11:49.

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Sorry for the double post but i should have mentioned Harnoncourt's superb (and fairly inexpensive) set (the Coriolan is superb). Great sound, too. Another option is Abbado and the VPO's complete set but im pretty sure its now OOP. The other drawback is that it's Abbado. If you like his symphony cycle performance with the VPO you'll love it. If you're like me then it may not be your bag.

    Beethoven_Overtures_617792.gif
    Last edited by Merl; Sep-08-2018 at 11:52.

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    Senior Member Robert Pickett's Avatar
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    Damn! I've got the Harnoncourt set too, and they are very good. Knew I'd forget something....!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gallus View Post
    Who does the best collection of Beethoven overtures? I'm looking at Karajan's and Szell's, but the latter isn't quite comprehensive. Would you say all the overtures are of value to listen to?
    Szell is very excellent - esp with the "crown jewel" Leonore #3 - his Cleveland version is so excellent - Toscanini and Solti are very good, also, but I keep coming back to Szell. Reiner is outstanding also - Coriolan, Fidelio, Egmont....

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    Among individual recordings of Beethoven's Overtures, I'd suggest that you listen to Paul Van Kempen conduct the Berlin Philharmonic in "The Consecration of the House" overture (in my view, Van Kempen was one of the great Beethoven conductors of the past):


    https://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Sym...mpen+beethoven

    Among recordings of the collected overtures, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe's recording is very good & fittingly dramatic--if a bit quirky in places, as is often the case with Harnoncourt, but definitely worth checking out:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRC1...&frags=pl%2Cwn

    https://www.amazon.com/Overtures-L-V...oven+overtures
    https://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Ove...oven+overtures

    Among old school recordings, Eugen Jochum was excellent in the Overtures, and as is often the case with Jochum, his conducting contains special insights into the content and meaning of the music that aren't always apparent on first listening (for example, pianist Claudio Arrau once said that Jochum was the only conductor he ever worked with in his career that truly understood Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto...), and I appreciate that Jochum doesn't try to temper the brass in Beethoven's music, but let's them play full out:


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Trj9...&frags=pl%2Cwn

    https://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-9-S..._&dpSrc=detail
    https://www.amazon.com/Eugen-Jochum-...oven+overtures

    Rafael Kubelik was likewise full of insights into Beethoven's music: Here Kubelik brilliantly conducts the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Beethoven's Leonore No. 3 Overture:



    You might also sample Claudio Abbado's set of Overtures with the Vienna Philharmonic on DG from the 1980s. I wouldn't necessarily claim these are all great recordings, but they are very good, and arguably better than most. They also represent Abbado at his best in Beethoven, IMO: https://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Ove...oven+overtures

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_5u...&frags=pl%2Cwn
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THyZ...&frags=pl%2Cwn
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wfC...&frags=pl%2Cwn
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEvq...&frags=pl%2Cwn
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drvz...&frags=pl%2Cwn

    Leonard Bernstein's early recordings with the New York Philharmonic on Sony are recommendable too (though they don't come in the best sound): https://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Sym...oven+overtures

    Kurt Masur's "complete" set of overtures with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra is good as well, and being a complete set, offers all 11 overtures performed by a 1st tier orchestra; although I should point out that some have found these performances a bit stodgy, so I'd suggest that you sample them first. (Personally, I enjoy Masur's more classical approach to Beethoven, but it may not be for everyone.)

    https://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Ove...overtures+sacd
    https://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Com...oven+overtures

    Granted, Masur and his Leipzig orchestra do better with the Fidelio Overture on their remarkable recording of the full opera (initially released by Eurodisc) than on the earlier Philips recording: Here are links to both, in order to compare & contrast:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3yG...Md9ovf-zQRFg7o

    versus,

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWkb...&frags=pl%2Cwn

    On period instruments, I find Norrington, Hogwood, & Gardiner to be particularly good in Beethoven's Overtures. Immerseel & Bruggen are worth sampling too. For me, Immerseel's Beethoven can be somewhat hit and miss, but when he's good, he's great: such as with the 7th Symphony and "The Consecration of the House" overture (which he appropriately couples together on the same disc, since both works were undoubtedly influenced by Handel). (In the 7th, Immerseel's wonderfully raucous, authentic higher pitched Viennese horns get a real work out, and blend brilliantly with the woodwinds and 'classical' trombones--which is something to listen for in the overtures, as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcOz...&frags=pl%2Cwn.)



    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azIg...&frags=pl%2Cwn
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=maft...&frags=pl%2Cwn
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=610W...&frags=pl%2Cwn
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8xq...&frags=pl%2Cwn
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5d6H...&frags=pl%2Cwn
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zae3...&frags=pl%2Cwn
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vcP...&frags=pl%2Cwn

    However, if period performances aren't your thing, there's always the older conductors to check out in the overtures--Otto Klemperer, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Felix Weingartner, Fritz Reiner, Hans Knappertsbusch, Charles Munch, Erich Kleiber, and George Szell (especially if you can find recordings that Szell made outside of Cleveland with top European orchestras, where he was often a better conductor: for example, here's a link to Szell conducting the Staatskapelle Dresden in the 1960s:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbSP...&frags=pl%2Cwn
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wB3M...&frags=pl%2Cwn

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qoul...&frags=pl%2Cwn
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5wR...&frags=pl%2Cwn
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMZW...&frags=pl%2Cwn
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOG9...&frags=pl%2Cwn
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKFS...&frags=pl%2Cwn
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56fn...&frags=pl%2Cwn
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jn1N...&frags=pl%2Cwn
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhe2...&frags=pl%2Cwn

    etc.

    Hope that helps.
    Last edited by Josquin13; Sep-08-2018 at 16:09.

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    I'm sure there are many fine individual accounts, but without having heard them all, I'll add a vote for the Masur set just because it demonstrated for me how important good performances are. A few years ago, out of the blue, I realized that in 40-odd years of collecting I had never acquired a Consecration of the House overture -- and I remembered that I had liked it. So I got one of the cheap Naxos sets of the overtures, and was surprised at how unexceptionable and even bland the CotH was. I chalked it up to not having as good an ear as I thought I had 40 years ago, and forgot about it.

    Then I crossed paths with an inexpensive deal on the Masur set, and got it because I needed a CD Leonore No.3. (Digression: I had one as a filler on a Munch/BSO disc, but the offstage trumpet was the BSO's woefully nasal Roger Voisin, and his sound was weird enough to throw you right out of the performance.)

    Suddenly, the Consecration of the House resumed being an amazing work! (Tovey has called it, effectively, the Beethoven work more unlike anything else he ever wrote, than anything else he ever wrote. :-)). The set also has good Lenore/Fidelio overtures. King Stephen/Namensfeier/ Prometheus are minor Beethoven, but worth a listen. The rest are good. The minor dances and things are just that.

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkW View Post
    ...Suddenly, the Consecration of the House resumed being an amazing work! (Tovey has called it, effectively, the Beethoven work more unlike anything else he ever wrote, than anything else he ever wrote. :-)).
    I believe it's from about the same time that he wrote that big noisy Handelian fugue near the end of the Diabelli Variations. Beethoven loved his Handel! "Handel is the greatest composer that ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel on his grave."


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    Here are the overture performances that I would recommend (the first three are above the rest because I like those overtures much better than the others). Chailly did pretty well with Beethoven's overtures, so if you want a complete set, his is worth investigating.

    Fidelio: Bernstein/Vienna Philharmonic, Jurowski/LPO, Chailly/Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Abbado/Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Karajan/BPO, Klemperer/Philharmonia Orchestra
    Egmont: Abbado/BPO, Chailly/Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
    Zur Namensfeier/Nameday: Abbado/VPO, Chailly/Gewandhausorchester Leipzig

    The Ruins of Athens: Abbado/BPO
    Consecration of the House: Abbado/VPO
    King Stephen: Chailly/Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Myung Wun Chung/Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
    The Creatures of Prometheus: Chailly/Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
    Coriolan: Chailly/Gewandhausorchester Leipzig

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    So many great suggestions guys, thanks. And wow, Josquin, that Kempen performance of Consecration of the House is something special. I compared it to Masur and I have to say that you're right that the latter's collection might not be to everyone's taste, I feel his approach is 'lively' rather than 'powerful', not really what appeals to me in Beethoven I suppose...
    Last edited by Gallus; Sep-10-2018 at 02:24.

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