In May 2002, in a series of live concerts in the Golden Hall of Vienna's Musikverein, a journey unique in the Wiener Philharmoniker's long and distinguished history reached its conclusion. This thrilling set of symphonies is the fruit of that journey. The recordings were made 'live' after numerous performances of individual symphonies and complete cycles in Tokyo, Berlin and Vienna. Rattle believes that a live performance has its own rhythm. The conductor 'channelling his unrelenting energy' was something audiences and the critics noticed at the concerts in the Musikverein.
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.
One of the most fascinating recording projects of this period was Sir Roger Norrington's pioneering set of Beethoven symphonies with The London Classical Players. Here at long last–after a century and a half of neglect–was a conductor bravely determined to conduct these symphonies according to Beethoven's difficult metronome markings, and as played on the original instruments that Beethoven had composed for–that is, the very sounds that he must have had in his mind when he wrote this music down. Norrington astutely saw that Beethoven's original brass and percussion instruments play a crucially prominent role in these symphonies, and most importantly, that they cannot be tempered without diminishing the passionate intensity of the music itself. Thus, not only does Norrington faithfully adhere to the original scores and markings–come what may, but again and again throughout these performances, he encourages the brass and percussion sections to play full out–at their utmost intensity, and it is truly magnificent.
These performances of the Beethoven symphonies and overtures seek to perform these masterpieces employing the same instrumentation, acoustics and timing that Beethoven heard (when he could) and used. Thus we are placed in hearing this music the way its composer wanted us to hear it.
Dating from the 1970s, Rafael Kubelik's incisive and acclaimed reading of Beethoven's second and fifth symphonies is the latest release in the Remastered Classics series from PENTATONE, performed with panache by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The fact that Beethoven was nearly thirty before he completed his First Symphony is indicative of his great respect for the genre. His careful preparations included a year of regular lessons with Haydn, the ‘father of the symphony’, as well as the composing of piano sonatas and piano trios that exhibit distinctively symphonic elements. Meanwhile he mastered the art of writing for orchestra by composing a number of concertos. As we know, these preparations paid off and the First Symphony has been part of the repertoire ever since its première in 1800. Already some years later Beethoven sketched some ideas for an orchestral work based on pastoral themes, but again he took his time in bringing them to fruition.
A charismatic presence, [Casals] embraces each work with the passion of a devoted horticulturist tending his most precious flowers … I can't think of any other interpreters who so successfully underline the sheer inventiveness of Beethoven's writing.