Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Ludwig van Beethoven, David Zinman, Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra|
Beethoven: Symphonies 1 & 2
Exploring the Beethoven Symphonies -- Nos 1 and 2
Robin Friedman | Washington, D.C. United States | 10/02/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have been enjoying revisiting the Beethoven symphonies in the recordings by the American conductor David Zinman and the Tonhalle Orchester Zurich. Zinman recorded the complete nine symphonies in the late 1990s using a new critical edition by Jonathan Del Mar. The symphonies are available in a budget-priced compilation or on individual CDs.
Zinman offers a period-style performance of the Beethoven symphonies using modern instruments. Zinman's Beethoven is characterized by rapid tempos, transparent textures, and some surprises in orchestra resulting from the use of the new text. Even with the quick tempos, Zinman gives the listener a light, lyrical Beethoven, rather than one with the sharp drive of some other readings. Zinman's approach works well in the earliest of Beethoven's symphonies, no 1 in C major, opus 15 and no. 2 in D major, included on this CD. He offers idiomatic, beautifully realized performances of works by the young composer of symphonies just coming into his powers. I would like to offer some comments on the works for those listeners new to Beethoven or his early symphonies.
Beethoven's first symphony received its initial performance in April 1800. The Engish musicologist Donald Frances Tovey described it as a fitting farewell to the 18th Century. In this symphony, Beethoven remains greatly under the influence of Haydn and Mozart while he already shows a few touches of the Beethoven to come. The most memorable portion of the first symphony is the third movement "minuetto". In its drive and rhythm, this movement is more of a scherzo than a minuet. The movement includes as well a contrasting trio in which Beethoven's originality is on full display. Much of the rest of the symphony is indebted to Haydn, as witnessed by the short slow introduction, typical of Haydn's late symphonies. Even here Beethoven's opening harmonies are surprising. The slow movement of this symphony is somewhat routine compared with the best of Haydn and Mozart. The finale has touches of humor, especially in its opening stutter-step scales, but it again owes much to Haydn. The first symphony is enjoyable listening. Those who love Beethoven will appreciate it largely by considering it in its contrast with the symphonies that follow.
Beethoven took a great step forward in his symphony no. 2, which received its premiere in 1803. This work is on the cusp of Beethoven's change from his so-called "first period" of composition to the originality of his second period. Many students find that Beethoven achieved the primary change in his style between the First and Second symphonies rather than between the Second and the Third.
Beethoven composed this work when he was undergoing a great personal crisis resulting from his realization that he was growing deaf. He tried to surmount despair and thoughts of suicide by pouring himself into his art. In this symphony, he succeeded.
The Second symphony is on a much larger scale than is the First, as is shown at the outset by the lengthy, mysterious slow introduction, rather than the few bars which opened the first. The allegro con brio of the opening movement features rollicking propulsive themes, dynamic contrasts, and touches of instrumentation, especially in its use of the lower strings, that immediately mark the work as Beethoven's
The highlight of the Second symphony is the larghetto, a lacy, frilly and carefully worked out movement featuring two related lyrical themes and a short, exquisite coda. Donald Frances Tovey, whom I mentioned above, described this movement as the touchstone of what is beautiful and childlike in music. Many composers, including Schubert, were entranced by this movement, and in the 19th century it formed the basis for many transcriptions for home performance. This movement remains among Beethoven's loveliest. Zinman takes it lightly and a bit faster than usual. His reading is highly convincing.
The third movement of the symphony is the first that Beethoven expressly marked "scherzo". The finale opens with a rough brusque theme, that reaches levels of excitement and fury in its long coda that had not been touched earlier in symphonic music. In his excellent 2003 biography of Beethoven (at p 158) Lewis Lockwood observed of the Second: "This symphony signaled that from now on in Beethoven's orchestral works power and lyricism in extreme forms were to be unleashed as never before, that the stark dramatization of musical ideas was to be fundamental to the discourse, and that contemporaries, ready or not, would have to reshape their expectations to keep up with him."
Zinman's recording is a fine introduction to early Beethoven as symphonist. With the Second, Beethoven had indeed arrived as a composer of symphonies.
Taut and thoughtful readings, among the best available
G.D. | Norway | 12/12/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Zinman's Beethoven cycle has been the recipient of critical acclaim, and well deserved it is. The textual updates are most prominent in the second symphony, particularly the addition of several trills (most prominently in the woodwinds). What is striking overall, is how well considered these readings are - a penetrating, concentrated and genuinely fresh look at old warhorses.
Zinman generally opts for rather swift tempos, but is in no way hurried, and he draws excellent response from the Tonhalle. The first symphony sounds simply brilliant, adding focus to details that other versions seem to have overlooked (or at least paid insufficient attention to). This is as taut, vivacious and cogently argued a reading as you could possibly dream of.
The second symphony enjoys a similar lively interpretation, focusing on lightness and transparency (which, of course, means that some people will miss just a little punch to it, especially the strings). This is probably the version in the catalogue that is truest to Beethoven's own directions. Sound quality is spacious and very good as well. So, while this should probably not be the only versions to own, it can be strongly recommended."