Masur brings a fine balanced sense of classical elegance
scarecrow | Chicago, Illinois United States | 07/18/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"We listen to Beethoven today only in relation to the galaxy of recordings. What a luxury having dozens of Symphonies to choose from. But Beethoven separates the men(interpreters) from the boys(Romantic fun lovers),the sound,the density and timbre is what trips(confuses) people up first,like Karajan revealing the premise "how big can big be?" I don't like that organ-like cathedral-like sound,it doesn't encourage contemplation only a wall of sound you give in and submit to. He and others have similar misunderstandings with Bruckner. Masur here always keeps the classical dimension well within his argument. Beethoven was alive at the time of Mozart and Haydn was his teacher for a time. Today Beethoven interpretations travels closer and closer away from the actual time he lived to the late-Romantic sensibility, that is the cathedral-like sound where we frequently find sharp violence and brutal gestures.Not that that wasn't part of the Beethoven aesthtic,but a context must be understood,on gesture,and balance and shape. Punctuation and fast rhythmic blows in Beethoven should be not that brutal, for again "how hard is hard", do you hit a fly with a sledge hammer to kill it. Some Beethoven interpreters (Solti, Bernstein,Karajan,Sawallish) I find these excesses and I have grown to dislike this approach. The Eighth is also a great Symphony,Stravinsky said is was a masterpiece in orchestration,if only there are those who have the sensitivity to hear it.Orchestration means nothing is the conductor misunderstands it,or has some creative indulgences of his own to exhibit. I always like to know,in for instance Bernstein recordings, where Beethoven begins and Bernstein ends. He quite frequently used music as an accompaniment to his own world.Masur again places this beautiful Eighth Symphony in a shaped context, a looking backward for a time before the colossus of the Ninth.The Seventh here as well is suppose to suggest dance in abstration,and again there are those who ignore this agenda,transforming the Seventh into escapades in texture,overly fast and furious as Carlos Kleiber with Vienna Phil long ago. What usually occurs when these excesses of volume and gesture are let out into sound projection is sloppiness of entrance,and an unbalanced sound, the timbre forecloses itself into one unarticulated glob of sound. Masur here sees these problems and always has a nice sense of shape of sonic design. A sense of elegance then is the result,which has not been a frequent dimension to most Beethoven recordings. The Gewandhaus Orchestra, the string body has a very warm sound, and the winds always a reedy timbre, well that is the Germanic tradition. Where they perform in Leipzig has wood walls which helps cultivate this warm sound as well."
Time to Wake!
John Wayne | Norcross, GA. United States | 10/04/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is but one of three parts in the Masur/Gewandhaus Beethoven Cycle (Disc One is Symphonies 1-5; Three is the Ninth). And in a world hungry for ordinated BEST-lists, OK, I can think of no better set. Pound for pound, baton for baton, the KM/LGO has to be the Sleeper performance of all record. If you'd love the contrarian cachet of being among the first to assert that there's a new Beethoven Standardbearer in Philharmonia, to the excited gasp of all who are fixated elsewhere, then climb on board this lovely bandwagon, and sit tight; for you're gonna especially love, as Ludwig penned it, "the awakening of happy feelings on getting out into the country..."Why this praise? I believe that Kurt Masur crawls, selfless and home, into an undervisited center of these works. It's almost more about raising the music's kinaesthetic nucleus than its overt signature. In other words: Masur stays somehow--and quite uniquely--where you FEEL the music just before you hear it. Just below the level of the audible the audible begins. And ends. I can't quite put my finger on it but my skin and bones know. Call it his command of the lower thrum of the soundscape; or the lush use of a big gentleness across considerable expanses, never losing out to evanescent sameness a single glint of careful clarity, Masur has an instinct for grace all his own. Imperceptible but unmistakable. What makes a black tuxedo truly black and resplendant is, if you think about it, its spare accentuations of white. In the sparse constellations the whole night shows up. And in that regard, Masur and the Gewandhausers are sonically dressed to seriously impress. Nothing flashy can sometimes actually outshine everyone else in the room and sky. And, as you know, Masur and his charges are mingling outside amidst one helluva(n) historic Beethoven cocktail party.Now some experienced Beethovenistas will say that, yes, ok, point taken.....but they need another conductor's style, and that's of course fine. Yes, they may need the various famous Maestrotechnics---Solti's command-blend of the pianissimos and fortissimos; Karajan's iron fist in the velvet glove; Furtwangler's nerves of steel as he (gulp!) found himself the appointed musikfuhrer of the Master Race; Bernstein's confident syrups and saps (and occasionally sticky-paged scores)---But as for me, just me mind you, Masur and Co. are always my answer to the question whom I would suggest as a single version of the Nine Symphonies. Price, quality, panache, execution, intangibles---All coalesce right here to make this cycle the dependable trustworthy earth about which I then suggest assembling for comparison the other forces of nature, the Solti-spring, the Karajan-autumn, the Furtwangler-winter and Bernstein-summer (Or is it the Toscanini Summer, the Bernstein Winter, and the, uh---Whomever you might personally believe constitute the Four Seasons of Beethoven-conducting. Is Carlos Kleiber, with only two--though admittedly recordbreaking--Symphony accounts worth a Fifth Season unto himself? How about Harnoncourt and Davis? who seemingly can do no wrong. Or is the stunning Abbado/BPO cycle the entire year unto itself? It's a fun question. You tell me.) But List-Lovers though we all are, and cureless Best-Of Addicts to boot---Aren't you glad we really DON'T EVER have to choose "One And One Only?" But with this selection I myself would happily start; and if I got no further I probably wouldn't notice the lack. Masur is Ground. Greater though all those Legends and Household Names may be, Kurt Masur and the Leipzig G.O. are incomprehensibly undersung; and the Ninth and especially Sixth Symphonies alone will make you wonder beneath your first-on-the-bandwagon grin how in the hell this ever happened."
A Triumph - of Ordinariness over Orpheus.
R. C. Ross | Birmingham | 02/07/2003
(2 out of 5 stars)
"This review is of the complete set of symphonies.The strengths of this set are obvious - utter dependability, sanity, good sense, moderation and efficiency. Or, from a different perspective, Kurt Masur's performances of these supreme masterpieces are without imaginative flare, excitement, originality or any sense of occasion.Thoroughly `traditional' readings performed in a utilitarian manner by the famed - but here disappointingly run-of-the-mill - Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Tempi are predictable - `fast' movements never fast enough, `slow' movements pedestrian, trio sections of the scherzi habitually (and annoyingly) slower than the main tempo and in almost all cases the ultimate conclusion of a symphony `rounded-off' by a noticeable easing of tempo - an interpretative `period'.No gainsaying the solidity of the Leipzig strings but woodwind are unremarkable (bassoons so distant they sound alfresco - ruinous in the important solo in the Pastoral's scherzo), brass do what brass do well, play loudly (crudely at the climax of the Eroica's first movement). The timpani get the worst deal, balanced well out of ear-shot.This set of recordings lacks Klemperer's authority and character (an indispensable set), Walter's sheer humanity, Bernstein's flair (on Sony), Ferencsik's equability and poise (a wonderful bargain), Norrington's infectious iconoclasm, Karajan's fiery intensity (the 1960's set), Toscanini's self-assurance and urgency, Harnoncourt's compulsive enthusiasm... Without any question there are real strengths in Masur's recordings - but Beethoven's symphonies demand more than the ordinary."
The countryside comes to life!...
John Wayne | 03/16/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I kid you not, of all the recorded performances of the `Pastoral' I've heard in my life, Masur's interpretation with the Gewandhausorchester seems to me the BEST! It is absolutely ideal.The `Pastoral' seems to be Beethoven's most demanding symphony. All the other Beethoven symphonies can be performed okay by just about any orchestra, but the `Pastoral' is special: if it's not played JUST RIGHT, it doesn't seem to work... I've heard so many dud recordings of this work, it seems to require a certain rare talent (on the part of conductor and the orchestra) to bring the magic out, to make this work `click'...And Masur's reading really brings this symphony to life! You really feel enchanted by the countryside as the music conveys the idea of the most beautiful pastoral scenery...So challenge me! If you feel you've heard a better rendering of the `Pastoral' somewhere else, I'd love to hear about it!"