Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Ludwig van Beethoven, Florian Prey, Gunther Leib|
Beethoven Edition: Complete Works (85CD Box Set)
Genres: Special Interest, Classical
From the people who brought you the Complete Works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 250th Anniversary Edition and the Complete Works of J. S. Bach Edition now bring out the Complete Works of Ludwig van Beethoven. Brilliant class... more »
From the people who brought you the Complete Works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 250th Anniversary Edition and the Complete Works of J. S. Bach Edition now bring out the Complete Works of Ludwig van Beethoven. Brilliant classics has spared no expense to get the best possible performances of the music of Beethoven. The list of artists reads like a who's who of classical music. Kurt Masur, Gewandhaus Orchestra, Friedrich Gulda, Vienna Philharmonic, Henryk Szering, Royal Concertgebouw, Bernard Haitink, Stanislaw Skroaczewski, Minneapolis Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, David Zinman, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Theo Adam, Helen Donath, Herbert Blomstadt, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Guarnari tring Quartet, Arthur Grimaux, Clara Haskil, Heinrich Schiff, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Zoltan Kocsis, Alfred Brendel, Pewter Schreier, London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis and many more!
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Spend a few months reliving the career of Ludwig van Beethov
Michael Schell | www.schellsburg.com | 07/05/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"First off, you may be familiar with Brilliant's universally acclaimed Bach and Mozart Editions, which emphasize historically informed performances, often on period instruments, and consist mainly of recent recordings by obscure musicians (mostly based in the Netherlands), contracted directly by Brilliant Classics. The Beethoven Edition set is quite different. These are entirely "modern" performances on modern instruments using the standard playing techniques of the post-World War Two period. Most of these recordings were made in the 1950s through early 1990s for other CD labels, and were licensed by Brilliant for this set. There are only a handful of original recordings, and these mainly serve to fill in gaps in the lesser known parts of Beethoven's output, such as the string quintets and the Irish and Welch songs. As a result, there isn't the sort of coherent thematic approach to the Beethoven oeuvre that you get with the Bach and Mozart (and now Haydn) sets.
So how are the recordings? Well, the symphonies are represented by 1974 recordings by Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. I was skeptical about these going in, but was pleasantly surprised to hear that they hold up rather well. The Ninth is a perfectly acceptable "modern" rendition of this masterwork. You MUST go out and obtain one of the historically-informed sets by Gardiner or Norrington, since Beethoven's symphonies, like Mozart's, sound best when played on the instruments that Beethoven wrote for, using the ensemble sizes and playing techniques of his time. Among other things, doing this lets you hear the symphonies at the tempos that Beethoven envisioned, something that's often impractical with modern instruments (that have more sound volume and sometimes a longer decay time) and modern playing technique (e.g., habitual vibrato in the string chorus) that evolved to meet the musical and acoustic needs of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Once you have that, it's fine to also listen to the Masur performances as credible examples of the modern approach to the Beethoven symphonies.
The Guarneri Quartet handles the string quartets, in recordings from the late 1970s/early 1980s. Since I don't think Beethoven requires seeping sentimentality, I personally dislike their old-fashioned, vibrato-laden, ahistorical playing style, preferring either a historically informed approach, or a more intellectual modern approach such as the Alban Berg Quartet's recordings. But others will enjoy these recordings, and they are technically solid. The violin/piano sonata recordings by Haskil and Grumiaux are artful and remarkably clear for their time, but the sound quality does betray their origins in the 1950s. The unjustly neglected Op. 9 string trios are represented well by the Zurich String Trio, and I enjoy the Borodin Trio and Schiff/Fellner performances of the piano trios and cello/piano sonatas respectively.
Gulda's piano sonatas from the 1960s are serviceable but not very exciting, given the range of quality interpretations available elsewhere, from the classical Brendel, through the cerebral Pollini to various period instrument practitioners. (As an aside, Beethoven piano sonatas are a case where the argument for historically informed performance is less of a slam dunk, since modern pianos are so technologically and acoustically superior to the immature instruments of Beethoven's day.) The Gulda recordings are certainly adequate for filling in gaps if you don't already have a complete set of the 32 "canonical" sonatas (there are three unnumbered sonatas that Beethoven wrote as a teenager). One might have less misgivings about Gulda's recordings of the piano concertos, included here. These seem to hold up better. Sorry, if you want someone like Glenn Gould you'll need to pay real money.
It's great having recordings of both the final version of Fidelio and the original version (when it was still named Leonore). In fact there's also a Fürtwangler historical recording of Fidelio that follows Mahler's practice of inserting the Leonore Overture No. 3 after Floristan's rescue in Act 2. The choral music, including both masses, is generally strong. Of course the vocal and other choral works are included as well as minor works such as dances, wind music, the mandolin/piano sonatas and so on. There are also 15 disks of "historical" performances, some of which are quite interesting, spanning from the 1920s through the 1950s. These duplicate works in the primary set of 85 disks, and there are various works by Bach and Schubert thrown in.
There are some flaws in the set. Several of the Alfred Brendel recordings from the 1960s (chiefly piano variations) are marred by wow or distortion. The soprano singing one of Beethoven's early coronation cantatas clearly can't handle the challenges of the part. Perhaps she shouldn't feel too bad -- these difficulties were sufficient to abort the work's premier. The 27th Piano Sonata (Op. 90 in E minor) is missing its last note.
As with most of the other large "complete" Editions from Brilliant, there are no printed inserts, but you do get a CD-ROM with the program notes. The supplied biography of Beethoven is a pretty serviceable one for its length (about 70 pages), and is worth printing out and reading. The program notes to the recorded works are more uneven. Brilliant Classics is not brilliant in the translation department, so many of the notes read awkwardly, and not every work is covered. There are no English translations to the texts of vocal works at all, though they're usually provided in the original language (German or Italian). Try "The Lied and Art Song Texts Page" for lieder lyrics and translations. For most works, instrumental or otherwise, you'll want to complement the supplied program notes with your own reading [...].
Although most of the recordings in this set are not my favorites of the work in question, it was nevertheless an incredible experience to listen through this man's complete works, something that I chose to do in roughly the order of composition (which required a significant amount of research and planning, since the CDs are organized by ensemble). Although I've been listening to Beethoven music since I was 2 years old, and have studied it for many decades, there were still a few revelations:
1. The three piano quartets that Beethoven wrote when he was about 13. One of them consists of two movements: an allegro with a slow introduction, then a theme and variations, a form that prefigures his last piano sonata, written 37 years later. This Op. 111, in fact, was occasionally used as a two-movement model for other composers, including Prokofiev's Second Symphony and several late works by Webern. I suppose it's worth noting that you'll find antecedents in Mozart too, namely the K. 305 and K. 379 violin/piano sonatas
2. The piano variations in C minor. This composition wasn't given an opus number by Beethoven. Perhaps he himself was unsure whether it really worked. It's basically a chaconne over an eight-bar chord progression that bears an uncanny resemblance to the chord progression used in the last movement of Brahms' Fourth Symphony. The latter is supposed to have been modeled after Bach's Cantata No. 150, but the Beethoven C minor variations sound a lot closer, as their theme is eight bars long (the Bach is four bars), and Beethoven even uses the same chromatic inflection as Brahms in the fifth bar. I would love to know if Brahms was familiar with the C minor variations
3. Speaking of piano variations, did you know that Beethoven wrote variations on Rule, Britannia! and God Save the King/Queen? And have a drinking game, play Beethoven's Auld Lang Syne arrangement for three voices and piano trio, and ask your friends to name the arranger. You'll get few correct guesses, yet Beethoven published dozens of such arrangements during his relatively fallow years of 1812-8
4. For some reason the Opus 1 piano trios had passed me by all these years. The first two may or may not be vintage Beethoven, but No. 3, with its awesome final movement with the modern-sounding axial first theme based on a repeated minor third has become a favorite. Imagine at my age having a new Beethoven masterpiece revealed to me
So in conclusion, for me this set isn't quite the overwhelming artistic and economic success of Brilliant's Mozart, Bach (and even Chopin) complete sets, but for me it was still well worth what I paid to order this from Amazon's France site in September 2007, keeping in mind that as an American I didn't have to pay the sales tax that's factored into the listed price (though the international shipping made up for that). Your mileage may vary, but there's certainly good value here for the price, and I hope that like me you may discover some new music to fall in love with. Brilliant is to be congratulated for putting this music in the hands of those of us who can't spend hundreds to amass it."
Yet another successful Brilliant Classics release
Michael Suh | 10/09/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I bought this in Europe a week ago. I've listened to about half of the discs since, and it's pretty clear Brilliant Classics has come up with yet another very successful box set.
The recordings included here range from ok to stellar. The Symphonies are definitely a highlight -- they're well-balanced and performed very well by the Leipzig Orchestra. The standard concertos (5 Piano, the Triple and the Violin) are excellent too, but the non-standard ones (Piano Concerto #0, the Violin Concerto transcribed for Piano, all the works without opus), are not so great. The sound is a little fuzzy, which doesn't help the fact that these works already aren't very good to start with.
The chamber music is a little hit and miss, but more hits than miss. The wind music overall is very good. I'm sure others will disagree, but I think the Piano Sonatas by Friedrich Gulka are a little on the limp side. They're ok, they're definitely not bad, but they lack fire. For the bargain side of things, I think John Lill's recordings are much better. The Violin Sonatas with Grumiaux and Haskil are from the 50's, so the sound again isn't perfect. But the performances are top notch. I've listened to about a third of the String Quartets performed by the Guarneri Quartet, and they're all outstanding.
This set also includes Leonore and Fidelio, which is interesting to compare. They're pretty similar, and they're both solid performances. I didn't listen to many of the songs and I'm not a vocalist, so I don't much to say there. They seem ok, but I'm no authority on that.
I'm thrilled to see Brilliant Classics come out with this set -- it seems like a natural progression after Bach and Mozart. The quality of those two box sets really set a pretty high bar for this one, and they didn't disappoint.
Brilliant Classics has really given DG's set a run for its money. And at a 90% discount to their set, there really isn't a question who comes out on top. Do yourself a favor and buy these discs!"
Spencer Morrow | Boston Mass. | 03/13/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There's hardly a music lover out there who doesn't already have multiple recordings of the Beethoven symphonies, quartets, concertos, etc., performances from which we choose according to mood, frame of mind-- to any number of reasons. So why not add another set of each? It never hurts to have another take on this infinitely interpretable music, and have it on the cheap. But wait! There's more! I'd bet even most rabid classical fans don't have more than one "Christ on the Mount of Olives", "Music for a Ritterballet", or "Leonore". Imagine what it would cost in money, and time, to fill out a complete-works Beethoven (beyond your favorite sets of the well-known works) with all the wind music, songs, dances... Brilliant lets you do this in one quick, very painless, swoop.
Some thoughts on a few of the major works:
The Symphonies, with Masur and Leipzig, struck me as very nice, mainly because in this day of historically informed performance, they are a throwback to the old school of Beethoven playing. Larger ensembles, more relaxed tempi, etc. Not that I'll toss Gardiner, Hogwood, and Norrington away, but it's nice to hear, now and then, Beethoven played like it was when I was just getting into serious music. His recording of the Ninth is particularly delightful for those who occasionally want to hear this work "big"--and I mean big. In the fourth movement Masur uses the forces of two choirs and a children's chorus!
The Piano Sonatas, with Friedrich Gulda, are a bit laid-back, compared to some, but the pianist is certainly dedicated to his interpretations, and can thunder when its called for. He's hampered a bit by (I suspect) his engineers; the piano sound can be harsh in the higher registers, and tubby in the bass. But all in all, not a bad set to have. Gulda's playing works well in the Piano Concertos, for the most part well balanced with the orchestra, especially in the 5th Concerto; often a modern piano can overwhelm Beethoven's rather light scoring in this work--Gulda does not.
The String Quartets by the Guarneri Quartet are played with all the drama this ensemble is known for. No matter what sort of interpretation one likes, these will hold your interest.
Nice to see some of the old Alfred Brendel recordings of some of the Piano Variations, especially since as I write this, Mr. Brendel is in the midst of his American Farewell tour. His playing has always been exemplary of knowledge, feeling, and pure, honest musicality.
The settings of Irish and Scottish songs are pure fun. Listening to some of the singers' accented English adds to the charm.
Neville Marriner's version of "Wellington's Victory". This grandly silly take on an already grandly silly work is almost worth the price of the set.
I'll not get into a discussion on what constitutes a "greater" or "lesser" Beethoven work, but only say that throughout his canon, top to bottom, there's hardly a piece in which one will not hear a turn of phrase that brings a smile, an unexpected modulation, a perfect dissonance--something that makes the listening worthwhile in any number of ways."