Although Beethoven was never exalted as a composer of ballet music, he in fact wrote two such works, the 'Ritter Ballet' (The Knight's Ballet) of 1791 and the work under review commissioned and composed 10 years later. The action and choreography were the labours of the celebrated Italian dancer, Salvatore Vigano', a pupil of Boccherini. In fact, Beethoven dedicated one of the pieces especially to him; the 'Solo di Vigano' which is track 17 of this disc.
The ballet is based on the Greek myth of Prometheus, the God who brings that spiritual fire to man, and although it was well received by the audience, it did not go down particularly well with the critics. Later on Beethoven reworked some of the tunes and used them in other works. The main allegro in Track 8 was inserted in the first part of the Overture, 'The Consecration of the House' and in the exhilarating Finale, the composer draws on 2 Contredanses (WoO14 #7 and 11) as well as the theme later used for the separate sets of variations – Op. 35 for piano and the fourth movement of the 'Eroica Symphony'.
This Hyperion release was first issued in 1994 and its reissue on the budget price Helios label is more than welcome. Recordings of this ballet are somewhat at a premium so this edition will no doubt do a great service to this fresh and picturesque score. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Sir Charles Mackerras delivers a highly atmospheric and infectious performance full of 'fire' and verve. Rhythm and dynamics are strictly observed and this helps to bring out all the imagination and originality of this felicitous score.
Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech