Music making=5 stars; recording=2 stars; orchestra=3 stars
Gregory M. Zinkl | Chicago, IL | 11/29/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Well, the Vienna Symphony in the days of these recordings was not a 3 star orchestra in technique, tonal refinement, accuracy, etc. (contrary to today, with the orchestra giving impressive performances technique-wise), but they get the extra star because they do something with Brendel that the Vienna Philharmonic fails to do in Brendel's latest traversal with Rattle in Beethoven's PC canon: they *make* music. And that is ultimately what I want from my recordings! The Rattle/Brendel outing, while full of acclaim and publicity, and even a note about the Vienna Phil especially appreciating Brendel (easy to understand), seems to me a tepid affair, with lack-luster playing from the orchestra (especially the strings), and what's the use of a digital recording if you can't mine the possibilities? It's average at best.Back to the Vox--youthful Brendel and Beethoven is a great adventure. His piano sontata traversal is exceptionally good (I prefer the Vox set to any of those I've heard in his other recordings); his piano concerti are no less so. His tone, sensitivity, and outlining of the music's structure is impressive. The Emperor, with Zubin Mehta nonetheless!, is especially enjoyable.Never buy an older Vox recording for an audiophile revelation (their later recordings, especially in St. Louis, are much better, some approaching exceptional standards), but buy them for the music-making. Unlike Naxos, the modern day counterpart, Vox had a knack for finding some of the best, and at the time, unknown performers and recording them (Horenstein in Bruckner, Mahler, Liszt), Klemperer (Beethoven!), Klein (Mozart), Gielen, Rosbaud, Slatkin; and they were able to record better-known performers, too, such as Susskind, Ricci, Schippers, Firunsky and Nelsova, etc. (of course they have their duds too)in intelligent compilations.Enjoy this set for the music."
Okay recordings, only recommended for someone on a budget
Alan Montgomery | 11/01/2000
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Well, it seems too good to be true. All of Beethoven's piano concertos along with his awesome Choral Fantasy in one set at bargain price. It was too good to be true. For one, Brendel's tone is very bad though he has a good sense of the musical structure. Even worse, the recorded sound is not very good. Some recordings from the sixties sound good even now, but these recordings sound terrible. Moreover, the chorus in the Choral Fantasy doesn't sing with enough passion, and Brendel doesn't have the power and charisma that it takes for a pianist to play Beethoven like Beethoven meant. Please don't mistake the Vienna Symphony for the Vienna Philharmonic. The Vienna Philharmonic is a world famous orchestra, but the Vienna Symphony is not that well known. If you do buy this set, buy it for the Choral Fantasy which is one of the most underrated masterpieces of all time. For the piano concertos, one would probably find more satisfying recordings elsewhere like Brendel's later recordings or other more passionate pianists. Even the choral fantasy is better served by other recordings, the version I heard on public radio was much more powerful than the one here."
Performances outrank sound
Alan Montgomery | Oberlin, Oh USA | 11/10/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"A High-Fidelity recording should be one that makes you really feel the music in a natural way, with nothing putting you at a distance. Here, unfortunately, the sound is rather shallow. It isn't awful, but it isn't top of the line even for the 60s. I have the entire Vox/Murray Hill set on LP - 21 of them, if you please! Every sonata, set of variations, bagatelles, and extra pieces. The last six LPs contained the Diabelli variations and the concerti, along with the Choral Fantasy. One reviewer is right. The chorus is only so-so in the fantasy, although Brendel is absolutely fine. As is the conducting. No one, to my knowledge, ever lists who the soloists are, and I'd like to know. The Murray Hill recording mentioned Mehta, but never bothered to say what piece he conducted. It is nice to know for sure (the "Emperor" concerto).
I recommend these for the High Fidelity of the performances to Beethoven's spirit and style. Even young Brendel got it right. Concerto #1 is light and yet has enough oomph to make the piece work. #3, one of my other favorites, has enough weight but never gets ponderous.
As far as the choral fantasy goes, it is the perfect piece for recordings. You just don't know where it is going. First you hear piano - ah, an extempore improvisation in Beethoven style - then a melody and then the orchestra comes in. The chorus and soloists only sing for about the last three minutes out of 17 minutes, by which time we're all saying, "What is this piece anyhow?" Had it gone on longer, Beethoven might have included the kitchen sink."