The year 1812 was a busy year for the well-known but deaf composer Ludwig van Beethoven. At last, Beethoven got the chance to meet that other famous German, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, but Goethe’s personality proved a disappointed to Beethoven. The composer was carrying on a hectic love life: in 1812 he wrote his famous letter to an anonymous ‘Unsterbliche Geliebte’ (‘Immortal Beloved’). Moreover, he was getting involved in the life of his younger brother, who was infatuated with a housekeeper. Yet despite his activities, Beethoven found the time to compose several new works, among which his Seventh Symphony.
For this 2013 Deutsche Grammophon release, Myung-Whun Chung and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra present Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor, "Choral," in a mainstream performance that traditionalists will heartily endorse. This is somewhat surprising, considering the music world's increasing adoption of authentic Classical and early Romantic practices in Beethoven performances, and even the most conservative conductors and orchestras have made concessions to period research.
This is the latest and, they tell us, the last of EMI’s Simon Rattle Edition, gathering together the conductor’s complete forays into certain composers and repertoire. As with any such project the sets hitherto released have contained both treasures and duds. Even though not everything here is perfect, this set sends the series out on a high with his complete Vienna recording of the Beethoven symphonies.
Recorded live in 1983, Alfred Brendel's third go-round with these works drastically improves on his previous Beethoven concerto cycles. He finds a calmer, more direct route to the Emperor Concerto, although the Fourth's first movement is still pock-marked with finicky phrase adjustments that pull focus from the music's poetic arcs. Levine provides sympathetic and alert support, yet is much more than a mere deferential accompanist.
Beethoven's trios for violin, viola, and cello remain among his least-played works. They seem to point back to the occasional chamber music of the Classical period, and if they're not given the proper attention, that's exactly what they do. But Beethoven himself thought enough even of the very early String Trio in E flat major, Op. 3 (1794), to supervise a keyboard arrangement of the work in the 1810s, and the Op. 9 set heard here, composed in 1798, is almost as ambitious as the group of Op. 18 string quartets that followed it by about a year, and for which it can be seen as a kind of study. The hard, weighty performances by the Trio Zimmermann command attention for these works. Hear the way it sculpts out the jagged opening melodic material of the climactic String Trio in C minor, Op. 9/3, or lay into the quasi-orchestral finale of the first trio of the set. There's a good deal of motivic work here that forecasts the density of Beethoven's mature chamber music language.
For fans of Sviatoslav Richter, it does not much matter if the sound is not all that great and it does not much matter if the repertoire is the same repertoire as always. It does not even matter much if the performances are not the greatest Richter ever recorded. For fans of Sviatoslav Richter, the only thing that matters is that there are new Richter recordings because that all by itself means that they will be some of the greatest performances of the greatest repertoire ever recorded. And this five-disc set of Sonatas by Beethoven, Schubert, and Liszt does not disappoint. With recordings dates from 1961 through 1975 and recording venues all in the USSR and its empire, the sound is hard and harsh. But with repertoire ranging from the last three Beethoven Sonatas through Schubert's last Sonata to Liszt's only Sonata, the music has the supreme masterpieces of the Romantic repertoire. And while there are Richter performances here and there that may arguably exceed these, Richter's performances here are as virtuosic, as expressive, as profound, and as transcendent as any he ever recorded. Which makes them some of the greatest performances of the greatest repertoire ever recorded.
One of the great cycles. Of the hundred or so available recorded cycles (out of about one hundred and fifteen or so), this rates as one of the best. In better sound than either the DG stereo cycle and the live King International cycle, Kempff's style is more poetic and less intense and fiery than others. Whatever Kempff may give away in terms of speed, power, and precision, he makes up for in other ways