Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Beethoven Symphonies 2-6 - Recommended Recordings For Class

After much listening for this class, here it is, a ranking of performances of them that is an absolutely definitive of my preferences in performances of middle period Beethoven as of late summer/early autumn 2017 - they are not reflective of any definition except how one person who has listened to too much Beethoven feels about various performances at this moment in time.   I'm not going to list their fine qualities or say that 'ranking' recordings is anything but a game of personal preference. Their fine qualities are for you to discover should you so be inclined. Listen to the Gold. Listen on headphones if possible. If you find that the music doesn't speak to you, or if you find the sound too low fi that you feel like you're missing something, listen to the Silver or Bronze and maybe you'll have a better experience. Find a passage which hooks you - that you find particularly beautiful or exciting, and compare a bunch of different performances. So without further ado:

Beethoven Symphony no. 1:

Who cares?

Beethoven Symphony no. 2:

Beethoven: Symphony no. 3 "Eroica/Heroic" 
Gold: Royal Danish Orchestra/Otto Klemperer 1957 (Klemperer was thought of as the champion Eroica conductor, but IMHO, this is the only performance that truly deserves the entirety of his reputation, and boy does it. No one has ever done the funeral march better.)
Silver: Berlin Philharmonic/Herbert von Karajan 1984 (No one has ever done the opening movement as well as Karajan)
Honorable Mention: 

I could just as easily name many more... 

Beethoven: Symphony no. 4
Gold: Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Nikolaus Harnoncourt 1991 (his 2015 performance with the Concentus Musicus Wien is even better but I can't find it on youtube)
Silver:  Berlin State Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim 2000

Beethoven: Symphony no. 5
1. Staatskapelle Dresden/George Szell 1961 (Szell is the champion Fifth conductor who left us at least 5 Fifths between 1955 and 1969. In order, his best Fifths are Dresden, Vienna, Cleveland, Amsterdam, Chicago. All except for Chicago are transcendent.)
2.  Berlin Philharmonic/Herbert von Karajan 1963 (Karajan recorded it five times, not much difference between them, but the 1984 version is also just about as great as this one) 
Honorable Mention: 
Vienna Philharmonic/Carlos Kleiber 1974 (this is traditionally regarded as one of the greatest recordings ever made. And it's very good, but I find that the second and last movement are a little duller than the notoriously electric opening and third movements)

Beethoven: Symphony no. 6 Pastoral 
Philadelphia Orchestra/Bruno Walter 1946 (Bruno Walter owned this piece in his lifetime, and he made a 1958 recording that is more famous and obviously in better sound, though I prefer this one)
Boston Symphony/Pierre Monteux 1959 (his Vienna Philharmonic recording from the year before is nearly as good and in better sound)
Honorable Mention: 
Los Angeles Philharmonic/Carlo Maria Giulini 1979 (he made one with the Philharmonia Orchestra ten years earlier that's just as good, arguably better)
Budapest Festival Orchestra/Ivan Fischer 2010
West-Eastern Divan Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim 2012

Don't expect this every week...

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