This disc represents Volume 2 of a set of the complete Beethoven symphonies currently in progress (the first volume, on the Talent label, included Symphonies 4 and 7 and was reviewed by Colin Anderson in 29:2). In a clumsily translated note Herreweghe refers to “nature” trumpets and “Baroque kettle drums with modern tuning”; these would appear to be the only concessions to period practice—by all accounts, the Royal Flemish orchestra employs modern instruments. This series would appear, then, to be comparable to the latest set conducted by Roger Norrington, with the orchestra of the Stuttgart Radio, on Hänssler.
The piano remained the main instrument of Beethoven throughout his life, and this specially priced 4-CD box set represents his entire and sizeable output for piano and orchestra, starting with the early Piano Concerto in E flat, WoO 4 – a work of tremendous energy and great technical demands, which Beethoven wrote when he was just twelve years old – and ending with Piano Concerto No. 5, the only one that Beethoven never performed himself in concert, due to his developing deafness.
As part of this [four-part] edition of previously unreleased radio recordings from across Fischer-Dieskau’s entire career, these interpretations of Beethoven, Mahler and Schumann demonstrate his unrivalled synthesis of intelligence and expression.
The film received a pasting from UK critics but as the soundtrack chooses from a vast archive of great performances, it’s possible to retrieve something from the experience. The opening track, the Grosse Fuge, is a bold choice given the wider audience for whom this soundtrack is aiming. It receives a magnificent performance from the Takács Quartet which is as finely attuned to the music’s jagged outcrops as its sheltered byways. The uninterrupted flow of the sweet and soulful second movement of the third Razumovsky is pure poetry in their hands. Ashkenazy gives a brilliant but never rushed performance of the finale to the early Sonata in C minor and his straightforward manner in the Arietta from Beethoven’s last sonata is illuminated by the very clear Decca recording. Haitink’s performance of the finale of the Ninth Symphony with the Royal Concertgebouw and a quartet of soloists led by Lucia Popp does not storm the heavens and I don’t ever recall being so aware of this movement’s proceeding by paragraphs. However, it would seem to have found a comfortable place in a well planned and wide-ranging celebration of Beethoven’s genius.