Author Topic: Op 55  (Read 1329 times)

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Offline Todd

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Op 55
« on: November 13, 2020, 05:37:01 AM »
In this most hallowed year, it really became mandatory to listen to all versions of the most hallowed of all symphonies in my collection.  I don't even have to name it, that's how good, great, and important the symphony remains.  It had to be done.  It could not not be done.  To not do so would be disgraceful, abominable, inexcusable.  Just nasty.  Indeed, so important was it to do so that it became important to add recordings to my collection to establish a more complete appreciation of one of the greatest works of art that humanity will ever produce.  Time to get started:




I decided to start with a recording simultaneously old and new.  Chronologically, it is quite new, dating from the Noughties.  Stylistically, it harks back to Wilhelm Furtwängler and Otto Klemperer.  Thielemann takes his time.  The Allegro con brio approaches twenty minutes in length, so Thielemann favors broad tempi and phrasing, all the more so since he tends to accelerate in crescendos, and he relies on the cumulative power of the music to deliver a satisfying coda.  It is the very antithesis of HIP, so I can imagine some people not even wanting to hear a note.  Thielemann goes broad again in the Funeral March, taking nearly eighteen minutes, and he goes for grand gestures and a serious if not especially funereal sound.  It's sort of like Siegfried's Funeral March pushed back in time and transmogrified into classical era music.  It's not bad at all.  Thielemann picks up the pace in the Scherzo, and with the combination of weighty playing, fun accelerandos in the right places, and impolite volume, one can extract a nice level of excitement from the recording.  Thielemann keeps things moving in the finale, too, which at times generates high degrees of excitement.  This is not the best Eroica out there, or rather it is not my favorite, but it exceeded my expectations.  Though a modern recording, and a good one, it is a concert recording and does not offer the last word in sonics and orchestral clarity, instead offering a big blob o' sound at times that even Karajan might find unsuitable. 
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Offline The new erato

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Re: Op 55
« Reply #1 on: November 13, 2020, 06:55:27 AM »
Probably the most important symphony ever, and IMHO Beethoven's best. Your musings on Beethoven are as always of great interest.

Offline André Le Nôtre

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Re: Op 55
« Reply #2 on: November 13, 2020, 02:09:38 PM »
Maybe some day someone will write a transcription for guitar so that a three-minute excerpt  can be played on our local classical music radio station.
« Last Edit: November 13, 2020, 02:17:17 PM by André Le Nôtre »

Offline Todd

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Re: Op 55
« Reply #3 on: November 14, 2020, 05:54:31 AM »


Time for something just plain old: Willem Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw.  Though issued by Decca, this recording comes from Telefunken.  The sound is dulled by excessive noise reduction and presumably sub-par sources, but no matter.  Everyone's favorite Dutch Nazi conductor generally acquits himself nicely, if one likes his very old-fashioned interventionist ways.  The opening Allegro con brio is fairly brisk, and Mengelberg's penchant for rubato makes it glide along.  Some balances are odd - should horn be that prominent yet ineffective - but, again, with the source material there's only so much that can be done.  The Funeral March sort of glides along, accentuated by some prominent portamento, not applied equally to all strings.  It's not unpleasant and would work better with better sound.  Both the Scherzo and Finale endure something of a heavy-handed approach in terms of interventions and even cuts, and in the finale in the form of a hyper-gallop approach, but they work well enough in an old-fashioned maestro sort of way where one makes allowances for such things.  In some ways, Mengelberg is like a less disciplined and expansive Furtwängler.
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Offline André Le Nôtre

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Re: Op 55
« Reply #4 on: November 14, 2020, 01:40:17 PM »
I would be interested in your thoughts on the Toscanini and Weingartner versions. I have never liked Toscanini's interpretations of anything, and the Weingartner remains on my shelf (in LP form) after many years. His tempos, like Toscanini's, seem very brisk, but they also seem to project a different mood. My favorite for this symphony remains Furtwängler with the Berlin Philharmonic. I also have the performance with the VPO, but have not made a direct comparison. 

Offline Todd

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Re: Op 55
« Reply #5 on: November 14, 2020, 02:14:58 PM »
I would be interested in your thoughts on the Toscanini and Weingartner versions.


Two Toscanini versions will appear later.  I own no Weingartner.
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Offline André Le Nôtre

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Re: Op 55
« Reply #6 on: November 14, 2020, 02:35:42 PM »
Thanks. There's this on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9v5_-U5_A8

Offline Jo498

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Re: Op 55
« Reply #7 on: November 15, 2020, 12:53:27 AM »
Probably the most important symphony ever, and IMHO Beethoven's best.
It's a rather paradoxical situtation. As far as somewhat traceable influence goes, the Eroica seems among the least relevant of Beethoven's (major) symphonies despite/because? being at its times the most daring and demanding. One finds echoes of the 4th (and even the 2nd) and of course the 7th in Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn. The Pastoral supposedly was the most popular for most of the 19th century and provided a fusion model of programmatic and absolute music, the 5th the cyclic/leitmotiv structure and "through dark to light" model and the 9th for including voices (and many other features).
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline Handelian

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Re: Op 55
« Reply #8 on: November 15, 2020, 12:53:41 AM »


Time for something just plain old: Willem Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw.  Though issued by Decca, this recording comes from Telefunken.  The sound is dulled by excessive noise reduction and presumably sub-par sources, but no matter.  Everyone's favorite Dutch Nazi conductor generally acquits himself nicely, if one likes his very old-fashioned interventionist ways.  The opening Allegro con brio is fairly brisk, and Mengelberg's penchant for rubato makes it glide along.  Some balances are odd - should horn be that prominent yet ineffective - but, again, with the source material there's only so much that can be done.  The Funeral March sort of glides along, accentuated by some prominent portamento, not applied equally to all strings.  It's not unpleasant and would work better with better sound.  Both the Scherzo and Finale endure something of a heavy-handed approach in terms of interventions and even cuts, and in the finale in the form of a hyper-gallop approach, but they work well enough in an old-fashioned maestro sort of way where one makes allowances for such things.  In some ways, Mengelberg is like a less disciplined and expansive Furtwängler.

‘Everybody’s favourite Dutch Nazi conductor’? You should have tried telling that to my Dutch relatives who risked their lives working for the resistance and hiding Jews from the SS during the WW2!

Offline Todd

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Re: Op 55
« Reply #9 on: November 15, 2020, 06:56:10 AM »




Writing of Wilhelm Furtwängler, it's about time to revisit two of 127 different recordings of the work by the Teutonic Gott.  Starting with the HMV/EMI/Warner recording, Furtwängler launches his Allegro con brio with weighty, slow playing, and then gradually picks up the pace, but not too much, and like Thielemann after him, he increases tempi in crescendos.  The conception sounds better sorted than Thielemann, with tempo relationships making more sense.  It also sounds more dead and less compelling, and not even the coda enthralls like it should.  The Funeral March is fairly slow, mostly stately, occasionally dramatic, and mostly kind of boring.  The Scherzo is dramatic and weighty, but kind of slow and enervated.  The finale starts off rather unpromisingly, but Furtwängler picks up the pace, and the drama, to end things well enough.  Overall, this recording hasn't held up well for me.  The Great Conductors recording has more or less the same overall conception, but it has many more moments of inspiration, with Furtwängler leading his band in some playing of genuine excitement.  However, some of the slower passages drag, and Oscar Wilde's quip about Wagner, with appropriately scaled down timelines, applies here. 
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Offline Handelian

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Re: Op 55
« Reply #10 on: November 15, 2020, 07:15:05 AM »




Writing of Wilhelm Furtwängler, it's about time to revisit two of 127 different recordings of the work by the Teutonic Gott.  Starting with the HMV/EMI/Warner recording, Furtwängler launches his Allegro con brio with weighty, slow playing, and then gradually picks up the pace, but not too much, and like Thielemann after him, he increases tempi in crescendos.  The conception sounds better sorted than Thielemann, with tempo relationships making more sense.  It also sounds more dead and less compelling, and not even the coda enthralls like it should.  The Funeral March is fairly slow, mostly stately, occasionally dramatic, and mostly kind of boring.  The Scherzo is dramatic and weighty, but kind of slow and enervated.  The finale starts off rather unpromisingly, but Furtwängler picks up the pace, and the drama, to end things well enough.  Overall, this recording hasn't held up well for me.  The Great Conductors recording has more or less the same overall conception, but it has many more moments of inspiration, with Furtwängler leading his band in some playing of genuine excitement.  However, some of the slower passages drag, and Oscar Wilde's quip about Wagner, with appropriately scaled down timelines, applies here.

Furtwangler, like others, misinterprets Beethoven's marking for the first movement. It is 'Allegro con Brio'. Even if Beethoven's metronome is too fast and needs scaling down a couple of marks, Furtwangler (like Klemperer) is too slow. It misses the revolutionary nature of the music. Toscanini and Karajan are more appropriate here.

Offline Todd

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Re: Op 55
« Reply #11 on: November 16, 2020, 05:40:07 AM »


Sticking with a titan from long ago, the first of the great Kleibers, and probably the greater of the two, seemed a good choice to rehear next.  This handy old Decca set includes two recordings, one with the RCO and one with the WP.  The RCO recording starts off as nothing special in the Allegro con brio, with a flowing and slightly tense sound, but nothing too grand, but in a little less than a minute, Kleiber ratchets up the tension and speeds things up as the crescendo approaches, but in a less exaggerated manner than Furtwängler opted for, and Kleiber then decides to not let anything slacken, keeping the whole thing moving forward swimmingly, and he ends with a crackerjack coda.  The Funeral March, while not especially speedy, manages to sound tense from the get-go, and in places he directs a reading of great intensity.  In the Scherzo, Kleiber pushes the band forward with great speed and energy in the outer sections, nearly threatening to derail the proceedings.  That's a very good thing.  The middle section has fun horn calls, so help me.  Kleiber keeps the finale tight and rhythmically incisive first note to last, generating oodles of excitement, all while giving the music a weighty lightness.  It thrills.  Sound is a bit thin and wiry, and the playing is not up to the standards of modern day top tier orchestras, but there is no doubt at all, this is one of the greatest recordings made of the work.  The Vienna performance shares many of the same attributes, but it is just a bit less intense and vigorous and thrilling.  It is a bit better played and in slightly better mono sound.  Pick your poison.  Well, no, not really, the RCO version is better, but the WP version is also high end stuff.  A listener can't go wrong with Papa Kleiber.
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Offline Todd

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Re: Op 55
« Reply #12 on: November 17, 2020, 05:50:12 AM »


 

Might as well stick with the titans for now, and go with one of the most titanic of them all, Arturo Toscanini.  In the 1939 performance, Toscanini starts with fast, blunt chords before moving to quick, but not too fast, and almost ridiculously well-drilled playing.  He is able to start and stop the entire ensemble on a dime.  It's most impressive, and when he wants to drive the band forward, he does, generating intensity, drama, and excitement.  But it's abstract, it's pure.  ("Some say this is Napoleon, some Hitler, some Mussolini.  For me it is simply allegro con brio.")  The coda generates ample excitement, as it should, and the Funeral March is serious as heck, with some old school portamento brought under the strictest control for maximum idealized expression.  He keeps the music taut while adopting a reasonably broad tempo, and he generates some real heat, if not as much as Kleiber.  Toscanini pushes the Scherzo especially hard, and there are some moments that sound just a tad less than perfect, but no one can deny the energy.  He repeats the feat with the finale, which sounds outright mischievous at times, and bold and galloping at others.  It's really quite a delight.  The RCA set from 1952 is strikingly similar in overall approach.  This does not surprise.  What does surprise is how the small differences elevate this performance.  Toscanini doesn't blunt any chords or passages, and he transitions more smoothly.  The whole symphony just flows better and sounds more coherent, which typically I dislike as an adjective, but here it's true.  And the sound, while not the best from the era, allows one to hear what the band is doing in a fully satisfying manner.  A great performance.
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Offline Todd

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Re: Op 55
« Reply #13 on: November 18, 2020, 05:38:28 AM »




Gonna keep a trend alive: two from Carl Schuricht.  First, the 1941 recording with the Berlin Philharmonic.  The transfers used by DG in its '97 LvB Edition focus a bit too much on noise reduction, and so the playing sounds rather dull, but the dullness cannot hide the superb big picture conducting here, where tempi all relate to each other properly, and to the less grand, but still grand enough, scale than a few preceding versions in the Allegro con brio.  The Funeral March comes off as magisterial and measured, while Schuricht generates notably more excitement in the Scherzo.  Schuricht saves his relative best for last, in a finale with enough drive and a perfect amount of musical heft - not too light, not too heavy.  The dull sound probably dulls the performance quality too much in this instance, because it's not the best the conductor can do.  That is amply demonstrated in the performance with the Orchestre De La Societe Des Concerts Du Conservatoire De Paris from the 50s.  It sounds somewhat like Erich Kleiber's take, except it's different.  It's light, quick, more disciplined sounding, and the Allegro con brio moves forward in a completely unstoppable, inevitable manner, with Schuricht never taking his foot off the gas.  And dig how those trumpets cut through the mono mix.  Schuricht maintains tension throughout the Funeral March as well, while also introducing solemnity.  Here, one hears it presaging Wagner, not being informed by Wagnerian style, which is nice.  And though now a very old recording, one can't help but notice just how good the oboes - the oboes! - sound.  No foolin'.  True, Kleiber generates more searing heat, but Schuricht's take sounds just as gripping.  It's like musical novel, where one speedily 'n' greedily turns each page.  The Scherzo gallops along throughout, fairly light, and the horn calls rank among the niftiest ever.  Schuricht adopts a swift overall tempo, and the orchestra just sort of zips along, though the music never sounds light, and the swift overall speed allows Schuricht to expertly deploy rubato with some of the most masterly transitions between tempi human ears can hear.  The band revels in the beloved tune, and every section gets its turn to shine.  One of the great recordings.
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Offline aukhawk

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Re: Op 55
« Reply #14 on: November 19, 2020, 03:48:23 AM »
 
... The RCA set from 1952 is strikingly similar in overall approach.  This does not surprise.  What does surprise is how the small differences elevate this performance.  Toscanini doesn't blunt any chords or passages, and he transitions more smoothly.  The whole symphony just flows better and sounds more coherent, which typically I dislike as an adjective, but here it's true.  And the sound, while not the best from the era, allows one to hear what the band is doing in a fully satisfying manner.  A great performance.

I just had a listen to that 1952 Toscanini recording - generally right up my street, but, a note to the tympanist - Do keep up at the back !

Offline ritter

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Re: Op 55
« Reply #15 on: November 19, 2020, 05:14:12 AM »




Gonna keep a trend alive: two from Carl Schuricht.  First, the 1941 recording with the Berlin Philharmonic.  The transfers used by DG in its '97 LvB Edition focus a bit too much on noise reduction, and so the playing sounds rather dull, but the dullness cannot hide the superb big picture conducting here, where tempi all relate to each other properly, and to the less grand, but still grand enough, scale than a few preceding versions in the Allegro con brio.  The Funeral March comes off as magisterial and measured, while Schuricht generates notably more excitement in the Scherzo.  Schuricht saves his relative best for last, in a finale with enough drive and a perfect amount of musical heft - not too light, not too heavy.  The dull sound probably dulls the performance quality too much in this instance, because it's not the best the conductor can do.  That is amply demonstrated in the performance with the Orchestre De La Societe Des Concerts Du Conservatoire De Paris from the 50s.  It sounds somewhat like Erich Kleiber's take, except it's different.  It's light, quick, more disciplined sounding, and the Allegro con brio moves forward in a completely unstoppable, inevitable manner, with Schuricht never taking his foot off the gas.  And dig how those trumpets cut through the mono mix.  Schuricht maintains tension throughout the Funeral March as well, while also introducing solemnity.  Here, one hears it presaging Wagner, not being informed by Wagnerian style, which is nice.  And though now a very old recording, one can't help but notice just how good the oboes - the oboes! - sound.  No foolin'.  True, Kleiber generates more searing heat, but Schuricht's take sounds just as gripping.  It's like musical novel, where one speedily 'n' greedily turns each page.  The Scherzo gallops along throughout, fairly light, and the horn calls rank among the niftiest ever.  Schuricht adopts a swift overall tempo, and the orchestra just sort of zips along, though the music never sounds light, and the swift overall speed allows Schuricht to expertly deploy rubato with some of the most masterly transitions between tempi human ears can hear.  The band revels in the beloved tune, and every section gets its turn to shine.  One of the great recordings.
Thanks for the detailed rundown, Todd. Great to read, as usual! I was very favourably impressed by the Schuricht recording from Paris when I first encountered it (in its Warner-Icon incarnation) last year. Time to revisit it.
ritter
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Offline Todd

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Re: Op 55
« Reply #16 on: November 19, 2020, 05:41:03 AM »




Lenny's turn.  The aged New York recording launches with a tight Allegro con brio shorn of all excess weight and gesture, but with ample drive.  It's like a stylistically smoother Toscanini in some ways, though the sound lends a somewhat small-scale and scratchy sound, almost as if Lenny were proto-HIP, which he was not.  It's mostly high voltage excitement.  That's good enough.  The Funeral March keeps things tight and moves forward almost relentlessly, though not relentlessly fast.  It's like a less inspired Kleiber.  The Scherzo is taken at a slightly broad tempo, and Bernstein pushes it forward with the same relentlessness of the opening movement, making for a satisfying movement.  The finale starts off at a nearly frenzied pace before pulling back to something more conventional.  The speed, weight, and orderly dispatch of the music makes for an exciting listen.  It's a pity Bernstein's New York legacy wasn't as well recorded as the work of some other conductors of the day, that's for sure.  The Vienna recording is notably broader in tempo, and while it lacks the relentless forward drive of the earlier recording, Bernstein does a masterful job of keeping the music tight.  The Allegro con brio never even remotely sags in its nearly eighteen minute duration, and of course the Vienna band keep things sounding magnificent.  Bernstein takes his sweet time with the Funeral March as well, and it loses some grandeur and punch, but picks up some beauty and stateliness, and some more dynamic contrast.  Pick your stylistic poison.  The Scherzo likewise sounds a bit more stately but also has some nice contrasts.  The finale somehow manages to take almost twelve minutes yet still groove, like a big ol' dance in places.  Lenny does his thing, injecting personality and vitality and it sounds just swell, and marks a qualitative step up from the New York recording, even if it doesn't reach the same elevated heights as some other versions.
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Re: Op 55
« Reply #17 on: November 20, 2020, 03:45:26 AM »
‘Everybody’s favourite Dutch Nazi conductor’? You should have tried telling that to my Dutch relatives who risked their lives working for the resistance and hiding Jews from the SS during the WW2!

It's indeed weird that he does not give 'everybody's war hero' Wilhelm Furtwaengler a witty nickname.

In this particular review, it doesn't add anything substantial.

But, hey, 'Good Music Guide' and 'politics'. On this board, the combination already is a proven joke.

Mengelberg has never been everyone's favourite.
And he wasn't a true Nazi, but a spineless and ignorant opportunist.

Compared to some other conductors, who acted much more as ideological Nazi's (like Karl Böhm), Mengelberg was heavily punished after the war.
He must have felt miserable when he saw how quickly others were 'forgiven' and could carry on as if nothing had happened.
« Last Edit: November 20, 2020, 03:51:24 AM by Sterna »

Offline Todd

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Re: Op 55
« Reply #18 on: November 20, 2020, 05:44:57 AM »




Now for two from Otto Klemperer.  Mono first.  Klemperer goes for a stately tempo in the Allegro con brio, but as with some other titans of the podium he shows that tempo is but one factor.  The playing sounds slow, but it never feels slow.  Everything is in proper proportion to everything else, the orchestra sounds transparent in fully acceptable mono sound, and the tuttis carry weight and power aplenty - this is a titanic masterpiece receiving a titanic reading, as Klemperer demonstrates conclusively by slowing down and bringing the orchestral playing to a light, soft level before ramping up in the monumental, satisfyingly swift and timelessly heroic coda.  Klemperer takes the Funeral March at a tempo that ends up sounding taut, and he approaches Kleiber in terms of intensity.  More than the opener, the Scherzo marries slightly broad tempo with a feeling of unstoppable forward drive that makes it sound more exciting than it should, while the Finale sounds just a touch too heavy, though even here, Klemperer delivers the goods and then some.  (Are the timps just a bit much?  Yes, and that's how it should be.)  The recording doesn't reach the same levels as Kleiber, but it's another mono blockbuster.  The stereo recording succumbs to two maladies that render it less satisfactory.  First, Klemperer slows down even more, which in itself is not a problem, but he never generates the same level of tension or drama.  The playing sounds soggy.  This is evident in the opening movement, but it becomes more so in the second movement.  To be sure, the Funeral March may sound even more serious in the stereo version, but it lacks the same power.  The Scherzo sounds a little slower, lacking the forward momentum, while the Finale sounds lighter overall, if slower and turgid in tuttis.  The second malady involves sound.  Though in stereo, and therefore "better", at least in the remastering I own, the orchestra sounds less transparent and the relative dynamic range actually sounds narrower, and both traits serve to lessen musical impact.  Here's a case where the mono recording easily outdoes the stereo remake by the same artist.
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Everyone dies - William Barr, United States Attorney General

Sterna

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Re: Op 55
« Reply #19 on: November 20, 2020, 06:59:32 AM »
Plenty of music lovers around the world prefer another 'favourite Dutch [....] conductor' by the way. His name is Paul van Kempen, and he recorded a splendid (mono) Eroica in the early 1950s with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7hGZBGO6NE