Kubelik conducts Beethoven in a Classical vein, free of exce
Alan Majeska | Bad Axe, MI, USA | 10/25/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Whether or not you like Rafael Kubelik's Beethoven depends on how you like to hear Beethoven performed and recorded: with a Classical, lean approach, or a more Romantic, "beefy" approach.
Rafael Kubelik (1914-1996) always brings to my mind his recordings of Smetana, Dvorak, Janacek, and Martinu - all Czech composers of his homeland, yet he also recorded alot of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann. Kubelik's Beethoven follows a Classical approach, and is free of excesses of sound or speed.
Tempos are often moderate, as in the Allegro section of Symphony 7:I. This 6/8 section, which makes up 80% of the movement is often more driven, in tempo and articulation. Kubelik takes it at a more leisurely pace, which may not seem exciting on first listening, but it will wear well over time. II is dramatic and intense, III and IV playful, and IV has a real "Bacchanalian frenzy" quality about it. The Vienna Philharmonic plays beautifully for Kubelik in this 1974 recording, and the Violins (1 and 2) are divided: Violins 1 are on the left, Violins 2 on the right. You can hear this, and it makes a difference: different from many other recordings of this famous symphony.
Symphony 8 was recorded in Cleveland, and follows the traditional approach to tempos and phrasing, although I sounds more driven than Symphony 7:I does. It works: the fast speed is exciting, and the Clevelanders, who recorded this work with George Szell (1897-1970) in the 1960s, toss it off like child's play. II is a little slower than some, III and IV just the right tempos in my opinion. IV is appropriately playful, as Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) once said, "like a frisky puppy chasing a stick."
Symphony 9, with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, is also very fine, and if it doesn't erase memories of Furtwangler/Lucerne, August 1954 (Tahra, a recording for the ages) it is a very good, solid Beethoven 9. I especially like IV, which sparkles with joy, yet avoids frenzy and excess. Kubelik has a great choir and quartet of soloists, although I disagree with the booklet listing Teresa Berganza as a "contralto". I think of Berganza as a Mezzo-Soprano, and wonder at this listing.
In short, I like Kubelik's Beethoven, as a supplement to recordings by Bernstein/Vienna (DG), Bohm/Vienna (DG), Karajan/Berlin (DG, 1961-62 or 1975-77) or Walter/Columbia (Sony, Symphonies 1-8). Recommended to those who don't need Beethoven in a Romantic vein 100% of the time."
A fine set of Beethoven's last three symphonies
John Kwok | New York, NY USA | 01/22/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Rafael Kubelik did something impossible, almost unheard of today. He conducted a distinguished cycle of Beethoven's symphonies using 9 separate orchestras. He thought that each orchestra had its own unique sound, and thus, decided to match that sound to an appropriate Beethoven symphony. This set is the first of what I hope will be a complete reissue by Deutsche Grammophon of Kubelik's Beethoven symphony cycle. The Vienna Philharmonic gives another brisk, warm performance of the 7th Symphony that is as good as those conducted by Bernstein, Bohm or Kleiber with this orchestra. If there is a fault, it is minor; Kubelik slowly conducts the orchestra during the opening measures, before yielding to a faster tempo that he follows for the rest of the performance. In the hands of a slimmed-down version of the Cleveland Orchestra, the 8th Symphony comes across as a joyous, triumphant piece of music. The only disappointment is Kubelik's sluggish treatment of the 9th Symphony; a good performance by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra which doesn't quite attain the excellence shown by its peers in Vienna and Cleveland. Without question, these recordings show one of the 20th Century's greatest conductors at the peak of his artistic powers."
Kubelik, as ever, gets it right
Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 01/24/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I finally lost patience - not for want of trying - with the relentless friskiness of the bargain Mackerras set with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and set about finding replacement performances from disparate sources. I started with the Ninth because the Choral is the least satisfactory of Mackerras' interpretations (despite Bryn Terfel's sterling contribution): rushed and perfunctory. Of those many recordings I sampled, five eventually made it on to my shelves as permanent fixtures - after all, what self-respecting music-lover can content himself with but one recording of Beethoven's magnum opus? They are: Günter Wand's majesterial account, Karajan's brilliant 1977 version, Schmidt-Isserstedt (mainly for the extraordinary quartet of singers, but also his sure timing), the 1952 Toscanini (wilful and hors concours; there for its curiosity value and extraordinary energy) and, finally, this wise and humane performance by Kubelik. He has an uncanny knack of pacing everything correctly such that nothing sounds rushed but no drama or tension is lost. He is blessed with a superlative team of soloists and elicits their very best from them; who would have thought, for example, that Teresa Berganza could succeed in sounding like a magnificent, Germanic alto? A favourite Wagnerian bass-baritone, Thomas Stewart, anchors a fine team in a finale crowned by Helen Donath's fearless top B's.
These are, indeed, to quote the official Amazon.com. reviewer, interpretations "distilled from a lifetime's experience on the podium". In the 7th, the woodwind of the Vienna Philharmonic are as mellow as old port; a genial warmth, without a hint of stuffiness, suffuses the whole performance . The divided strings sing, the horns blare joyously and Kubelik displays his habitual mastery of pace by apparently starting the allegro finale in (the listener begins to suspect) rather too leisurely a manner, only to build inexorably to a thrilling climax.
The 8th receives a perfect performance from the Cleveland: affectionate, beautifully sprung and keen to punch home the elation of the climactic moments in the two outer movements.
This is somewhat old-fashioned Beethoven, just how I like it: Romantic in spirit but Classical in its restraint. All three symphonies are recorded in excellent sound at different locations and made available to us as a bargain "twofer". I have yet to hear a Kubelik recording I do not like; he is the "safest" of conductors without being in the least pedestrian or pedantic. This is a set to place alongside Kleiber's single disc containing the 5th and 7th, also on DG in their "Originals" series. Now; on to the Eroica..."