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CD Review

Ludwig van Beethoven

Collectors Edition

  • Symphony #1, Op. 21
  • Symphony #2, Op. 36
  • Symphony #3 "Eroica", Op. 55
  • Symphony #4, Op. 60
  • Symphony #5, Op. 67
  • Symphony #6 "Pastoral", Op. 68
  • Symphony #7, Op. 92
  • Symphony #8, Op. 93
  • Symphony #9 "Choral", Op. 125
  • Violin Concerto, Op. 61 *
  • Romance for Violin #1, Op. 40 *
  • Romance for Violin #2, Op. 50 *
  • Overture "Egmont", Op. 84
  • Overture "Coriolan", Op. 62
* Thomas Zehetmair, violin
Lynne Dawson, soprano
Jard von Nes, contralto
Anthony Rolfe Johnson, tenor
Eike Wilm Schulte, bass
Gulbenkian Choir, Lisbon
Orchestra of the 18th Century/Frans Brüggen
Decca 4787436 7CDs
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Surprisingly, our archives at Classical Net did not hold a complete cycle of the Beethoven Symphonies on period instruments, which I suppose says more about our preferences than it does about any sort of accidental oversight. Indeed, while our pages hold several sets that are period influenced, I believe that it is the correct decision to largely stick with the symphonic canon using modern forces. That said, the late Frans Brüggen recorded these works twice, and while this is the earlier set (the latter is on Glossa GCDSA921116), I find this an incredible bargain.

Although the Orchestra of the 18th Century was a pioneer in the period-instrument movement, they were noticeably more concerned with orchestral beauty than their immediate contemporaries. This means that their Beethoven – swift and incisive it may be – never sacrifices tonal quality for supposed insight. The symphonies are thus allowed a huge amount of emotional and artistic range without ever turning ugly. While the 9th is smaller scaled than some may like, it's beautifully (and clearly) sung and played. This easily surpasses Zinman on Arte Nova/Sony/BMG/whatever it is now, which sounds even smaller still and carries less excitement and emotional weight.

The early symphonies crackle with energy and a sense of discovery. The "Eroica" proves revelatory as well as quite satisfactory. In the middle works, the impression is even stronger. The 5th is highly individual, while the 6th and 7th are both standouts. As for the other works in the set, the highlight is Thomas Zehetmair's terrific reading of the Violin Concerto. It's also really nice to have a rarity like The Creatures of Prometheus complete. Philips produced the original recordings very well, and they still sound great in this jam-packed box. There were times I forgot what kind of instruments were being used and simply focused on Beethoven. That is a major accomplishment, and I recommend this set with enthusiasm.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman