Middling Performances at Super-Budget Price
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 05/22/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This 'White Box' set from Naxos combines the complete symphonies of Beethoven played by the Nicolaus Eszterházy Sinfonia under Béla Drahos, and the five piano concertos (plus the rarely heard Rondo in B flat, WoO 6) played by pianist Stefan Vladar accompanied by the Capella Istropolitana (Bratislava) under English conductor Barry Wordsworth. There are 8 CDs in the box with a total timing of right at 9 hours. The symphonies had been recorded in the mid-1990s, the concerti in the late 1980s. The sound is acceptable.These are fairly routine performances, with nothing particularly objectionable but also very little that is outstanding. There are a few exceptions. Drahos seems to have a better feel for the even-numbered symphonies (as well as No. 1), which are, of course, the more temperate of the series. However, when the storm breaks loose in the 'Pastoral' Symphony, No. 6, not much happens. And the dramatic qualities of Symphonies 3, 5 and 7 are somewhat muted. This may be at least partly because the orchestra sounds fairly small. Surprisingly, the Ninth is pretty good except for a rather pallid first movement. Certainly the soloists and chorus in the last movement are more than acceptable, even notable. The chorus has a nice blend and their attacks and releases are very well synchronized. My own personal favorite - not a widely accepted opinion, I'm aware - for budget symphonies is the David Zinman/Zurich Tonhalle set on Arte Nova, available only as single issues as far as I know and perhaps a little hard to find these days. But there are complete Karajan, Bernstein, Walter and Klemperer sets, admittedly in somewhat old sonics, for budget outlay. The concerti feature a pianist from whom we've not heard much since the late 1980s, Stefan Vladar. He was only in the his early twenties when he recorded them and he does a competent job but there are so many other similarly priced sets of the concerti featuring better soloists that they are hard to recommend. Spend a little more and get the Leon Fleisher set. Barry Wordsworth, primarily a ballet conductor as far as I know, leads routine performances with this Slovak orchestra. This set might be a good 'starter' set for someone on a tight budget who wants to acquire the complete symphonies and piano concerti in one purchase. Certainly someone who has never heard any of it before can become familiar here with some of the most glorious music ever written. But with a little shopping around one can do better, I think, for very little more outlay. Scott Morrison"
Pleasant introduction to Beethoven's symphonies
Robert Badger | Philadelphia, PA | 07/28/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I recently ordered this box set from Amazon. I must say that I've enjoyed the performances on the CDs thus far. I have to confess that I am a Herbert von Karajan fan. I love the sounds that he coaxed from the Berliner Philharmoniker, and enjoy his 1962 recordings of Beethoven immensly.
That being said, there is much to be said for the chamber orchestra being used in the performance of Beethoven's work. We know that the orchestras of Beethoven's time were much smaller than the symphony orchestras of today. There are certain details that can sometimes be obscured by larger orchestras.
These are perfectly acceptable performances of Beethoven's work. While they lack the dramatic sweep of Karajan's or Bernstein's work, they are worth looking into, especially for those interested in acquiring a budget collection of the symphonies. There are better performances out there to be sure, but this is still quite a good collection overall."