Is Josef Krips Beethoven one of the most poorly treated stereo cycles of all time? You could probably make that case; it's been shuffled unceremoniously from label to label in varying sound quality and presentation. It even ended up in a hideous-looking tin box a few years back at dirt cheap prices. Mind you, even on LP these recordings seemed to be all over the place; I have Mercury's "London Festival Edition", if that was supposed to mean anything, then or now.
All of this is a very long way of saying that I'm thrilled to see these warm and big-hearted performances back on an Everest imprint. Countdown Media Group has made these readings obtainable from Amazon and iTunes, and while I think CD is the way to go, the download remains a reasonable and advisable option. As the Second and Forth symphonies would have shared an LP, so they are disc mates here, happily in decent sound and coupled with the original insert notes.
As for Krips, his reputation has certainly faded over the last few years, but this music was at the core of his repertoire, and he has the London Symphony playing very well for him. This is very traditional and somewhat old-school Beethoven, but it's none the worse for that. Inner movements are flowing – a touch stately to be sure – but really well phrased and in most cases very beautiful. I remember being disappointed by the conductor's rather too serious Seventh, but here Krips retains a firm grasp of Classical structure and leaves room for a little playfulness and spark. There's even a hint of the modern practices in the coming decades, but just a hint; Krips stays within fairly standard parameters even when speeds increase. Those looking for the thrills of Vänskä and Norrington will doubtless find these performances wanting, but it could be much worse.
The sound never was state of the art when the LPs were released, which never bodes well for re-mastering, but like the readings themselves, it could – and has been previously – have been much worse. Anyone interested in Beethoven off the beaten path will find much to enjoy, especially as a nostalgia trip or supplement to their favorite Beethoven nine. A pleasant surprise, indeed.
Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman