Monday, April 20, 2020

Beethoven 250: the symphonies (Nikolaus Harnoncourt, 1991)

Beethoven: The Complete Works (80 CD). Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven. Performers: various artists including: Artemis Quartet, Daniel Barenboim, Rudolf Buchbinder, Renaud Capuçon, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Carlo Maria Giulini, Bernard Haitink, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Otto Klemperer, Stephen Kovacevich, Yo-Yo Ma, Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman, Jacqueline du Pré, András Schiff, János Starker, Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
    "Jubiläums-Edition zum 250. Geburtstag im Deluxe-Packaging mit umfangreichem Begleitmaterial."
    "Doing full justice to Beethoven’s awe-inspiring, but profoundly humane genius, this is Warner Classics’ first-ever complete edition of his works. It draws discerningly on the riches of the label’s catalogue, assuring integrity by assigning entire cycles to the same artist, ensemble or team of performers. Classics from the age of the LP are complemented by the best of the CD era and by a wealth of new recordings of rarely heard works that are ripe for discovery. This is a comprehensive and deeply satisfying tribute to Beethoven, a transformative force who has enhanced the lives of music-lovers for more than two centuries.".
    Warner Classics / © 2019 Parlophone Records Limited.
    Compilation producer and editorial: Ray Granlund.
    Editorial assistant: Xenia Evans.
    Mastering: Isabelle Davy - Circé Studios, Paris.
    Graphic design: WLP, Ltd.
    An emphasis on complete cycles by a specific artist, ensemble or team of musicians. A particular feature of the box is continuity of the interpreter(s) throughout an entire cycle of works in the same musical genre/related genres:
    – Symphonies Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Chamber Orchestra of Europe
    – Piano Concertos András Schiff, Bernard Haitink, Staatskapelle Dresden
    – Violin Concerto & Romances Itzhak Perlman
    – Piano sonatas Stephen Kovacevich
    – String quartets Artemis Quartet
    – Violin sonatas Renaud Capuçon, Frank Braley
    –  Fidelio & Missa Solemnis Otto Klemperer
    Some 300 tracks specially recorded for the box. These specially recorded tracks mostly comprise rarely heard works that are waiting to be discovered by a broader body of listeners. In the main these are piano works, choral works and songs.
    Booklet note by David Wyn Jones.
    The CD covers carry evocative paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, Josef Anton Koch and other German and Austrian artists of Beethoven’s time.
    Also available on Spotify etc.
    I bought my box set from Fuga at Helsinki Music Centre.
    Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827.
    Beethoven 250 / corona lockdown listening.

Opus 21: 1. Sinfonie in C-Dur (1800)
Opus 36: 2. Sinfonie in D-Dur (1803)
Opus 55: 3. Sinfonie in Es-Dur „Eroica“ (1805)
Opus 60: 4. Sinfonie in B-Dur (1807)
Opus 67: 5. Sinfonie in c-Moll (1808)
Opus 68: 6. Sinfonie in F-Dur „Pastorale“ (1808)
Opus 92: 7. Sinfonie in A-Dur (1813)
Opus 93: 8. Sinfonie in F-Dur (1814)
Opus 125: 9. Sinfonie in d-Moll mit Schluss-Chor über Schillers Ode An die Freude (1824)
with Schoenberg Choir, Robert Holl, Birgit Remmert, Rudolf Schasching, Charlotte Margiono

    Conductor: Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
    Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

AA: Many complete box sets are available of Ludwig van Beethoven's works for his 250th anniversary. When I asked Hannu Nuotio of Fuga for a recommendation for a layman he said that they are all great, but the Warner Classics box might be best for my purposes. I am not a music connoisseur nor a concert-goer but music means much to me. Nobody can bring greater happiness than Beethoven to a period of unhappiness. For the film industry, this is the biggest disaster during the entire 125 years of the cinema.

In his 2019 introduction to the box set David Wyn Jones acknowledges that Beethoven's lifetime was a period of revolutions but challenges the spirit-of-the-age arguments about the composer's achievements. Wyn Jones's emphasis is on Beethoven the Courtier, a man of the establishment, the official musician of the Congress of Vienna (= counter-revolution).

"I am large, I contain multitudes", wrote Walt Whitman, and those words certainly befit Beethoven. He cannot be classified in any simple fashion. He belongs to the Classical period, to the Romantic period and to a timeless legacy of absolute music. He belongs to the courts of Bonn and Vienna, but he was not a contract composer for the courts. His oeuvre is a grand adventure of a free spirit.

I am happy to disagree with Wyn Jones. For me, Beethoven is the soundtrack of the age of the triple revolutions which took place during his lifetime: the American Revolutionary War in 1775–1783, the French Revolution in 1789–1799 and the Industrial Revolution 1760–1840. Beethoven learned tremendously from Mozart and Haydn, but his spirit was profoundly different.

The box set starts with the symphonies. The conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe interpret them with noble conviction. The symphonies are evergreens, always new. Although the symphonies are familar, I have never before listened to them back to back. Beethoven was probably the first composer whose symphonies grow to an organic whole, an inner saga. The uneven numbers are the most famous ones (1, 3, 5, 7, 9), they are grand and dramatic. But the even numbers are not weaker, and they contribute joy, happiness and tenderness. I have often avoided the best-known symphonies and favoured the less played ones. But this time it was the Fifth that shook me even physically. Its opening is overused as a cliché, but now the Schicksalssinfonie really got me. It is again a soundtrack for a time of turbulence.

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