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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Coriolan, op.62 (1807) [8:10]
Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus (The Creatures of Prometheus), op.43 (c1801) [7:15]
Die Ruinen von Athens, op.113 [5:53]
Fidelio, op.72c (1805 rev 1806) (1811) [7:27]
Leonora No.1, op.138 (1807) [10:17]
Leonora No.2, op.72a (1805 rev 1806) [13:40]
Leonora No.3, op.72b (1805 rev 1806) [13:59]
Egmont, op.84 (1810) [8:13]
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
rec. June 1993, (Leonora 3), June 1994 (Fidelio), July 1994 (Egmont), Stefaniensaal, Graz; November 1993, Musikverein, Vienna, (Coriolan and Prometheus), April 1996, Concert Hall (Megaron), Athens (Ruinen and Leonora 1 and 2). DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564691750 [66:06]
Experience Classicsonline

This is a very attractive, and very well played, disk of popular Beethoven. Things get off to a very good start with a swift and incisive account of Coriolan. There’s plenty of drama and excitement here, but Harnoncourt doesn’t forget that he must lower the temperature for the lyrical music. Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus starts in all seriousness then explodes in one of Beethoven’s happiest and, dare I say it, funniest overtures, despite a slower, more solemn, coda.

Die Ruinen von Athens is a play by August von Kotsebue, written for the dedication of a new theatre at Pest, in Hungary. Beethoven supplied the incidental music, which included this overture. It’s a much lighter affair than the rest of this programme and most welcome, as it gives us a little respite before the onslaught of the four overtures created for his only opera. And what a good idea to put these four works together like this. Fidelio is treated perhaps a little lighter than we might usually expect it to be, but it works because much of the music really dances along. The small pauses in the music are not as pregnant as they are in some performances but this is a fine exposition of the music. The three Overtures which bear the name Leonora are a fascinating lesson in how to work out musical problems until you finally reach a satisfying conclusion. It’s interesting that Leonora No.1 bears little resemblance to the two other Leonora Overtures; it seems much more comfortable to be placed with the Fidelio Overture. It is more of a tone poem – although tone poems were unheard of at this time. Also, quite critically, it doesn’t include the dramatic interruption of the off–stage trumpet.

Superficially, Leonora 2 and 3 are very similar. Each has a mysterious slow introduction, a fast, energetic section, before the music is interrupted by the off–stage trumpet, then a wild coda brings things to an end. But they are not the same – I won’t start listing the differences – I will merely say what a revelation it is to hear the two works side by side like this. And, almost, to hear Beethoven’s thought processes as the two works progress. Harnoncourt directs forthright and exciting performances of these two pieces.

Egmont brings the disk to a thrilling and very satisfying conclusion, even if, at 6:32 he totally misses the point of the high violin attack and ensuing pause. All but for Coriolan were recorded at live performances and thus a couple of the tracks fade in a little audience noise; this will not worry you for it is gone in a moment. There is no applause following each performance. The sound is consistent, no abrupt changes of acoustic, and there are long pauses between each piece so we have time to assimilate what we have heard and can prepare for what we are about to hear. If it’s Beethoven’s Overtures you’re after you can’t go wrong with this.

Bob Briggs



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