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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Complete Overtures

The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43 (1801) [4.48]
Egmont, Op. 84 (1810) [7.25]
Coriolan, Op. 82 (1807) [7.21]
Leonore No. 1, Op. 138 (1805) [8.56]
The Ruins of Athens, Op. 113 (1812) [4.19]
Leonore No. 2, Op. 72 (1805) [12.14]

Namensfeier, Op. 115 (1815) [6.34]
Leonore No. 3, Op. 72 (1805) [12.24]
Fidelio, Op. 72 (1814) [6.08]
King Stephen, Op. 117 (1812) [6.29]
The Consecration of the House, Op. 124 (1822) [10.13]
Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich/David Zinman
Rec 9-12 February 2004 Tonhalle Zurich
ARTE NOVA 82876 57831 2 [45.38 + 42.11]

David Zinman and his Tonhalle Orchestra have achieved remarkable things in their Beethoven recordings for Arte Nova, and their performances of the Missa Solemnis review and the symphonies have made the musical world pay attention.

This 2CD set of the complete overtures is a worthy successor in every way, with excellent sound that allows the vivid intensity of the interpretations. The committed qualities of the playing really stand out. The two discs may not be full, at forty-two and forty-five minutes respectively, but the Arte Nova price remains competitive in a crowded market place.

At the top of Zinman’s agenda there lies the essential nature of Beethoven’s art, the dramatic intensity of vision of an artist who always remained loyal to the Viennese classical style. Therefore tempi are always well judged and never sound inappropriate, and rhythms are suitably taut. There is room for lyricism too, in which regard the love themes from the opera Fidelio come through to great effect in the second and third Leonore overtures.

In fact all four of the overtures associated with Beethoven’s only opera are performed with vivid drive and insight, each of them seeming a valid response to the drama in its own way and on its own terms. The balancing of the demanding details that undermine so many recorded performances is certainly not a problem here, and the significant sounding of the offstage trumpet call is heard to compelling effect in Nos. 2 and 3. The Fidelio Overture, the fourth and last of these projects, has rarely if ever been better done on record, since Zinman achieves such rhythmic intensity and such marvellously committed playing from the orchestra.

Other highlights include some of the under-rated but altogether splendid overtures such as The Ruins of Athens and Namensfeier. The latter, moreover, comes across as a real masterpiece, which is a remarkable tribute to the performance, since performances in the world’s concert halls are few and far between.

There are few moments of disappointment and no single performance fails. Perhaps the noble opening phase of The Consecration of the House is fussily shaped and lacks the nobility and grandeur that Otto Klemperer (EMI) and Kurt Masur (Philips) bring to their interpretations. But once the tempo steps up Zinman sweeps any lingering doubts aside with a fugue of telling dynamism and accuracy.

The booklet notes by Regula Puskás are not extensive but they are stimulating, and it is pleasing to see a full orchestra list for once. Make no mistake, this is a most rewarding issue and collectors should not hesitate. For these are stimulating performances that are available at a competitive price.

Terry Barfoot

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