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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Felix Weingartner conducts Beethoven
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Symphony No. 5 in C minor Op. 67 (1807)
Symphony No. 6 in F major Op. 68 (1808)
Eleven Viennese Dances WoO.17
British Symphony Orchestra (No. 5) March 1932
Orchestra of the Royal Philharmonic Society (No. 6) January 1927
London Philharmonic Orchestra (Dances) October 1938
Felix Weingartner
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110861 [75.33]


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It will come as something of a historical corrective if one is not acquainted with Weingartner’s Beethoven to listen to his recordings in the light of Naxos’s Pfitzner- Beethoven of similar vintage. It will also be no less instructive, at least in terms of internal tempo relation and linear curve, to set Weingartner alongside Toscanini. The echt Romanticism of Pfitzner, all tempo rubato and pliancy, meets no consonant call in Weingartner’s greater sense of controlled direction and in matters such as the Andante con moto of the Fifth even Toscanini must yield, at least when it comes to sheer speed, to the older man’s patrician imperturbability; he is a full minute and a half quicker than Toscanini’s 1930 New York recording.

Speed however tells only a partial story at best. What has been called his "lean beef" Beethoven strikes a chord with me. He is weighty but not weighed down – there are no bass-up sonorities here, no saturation either vertically in terms of projection or across barlines. The first movement of the Fifth is momentous but not monumental, articulacy being fused with a compelling sense of momentum. The Andante con moto is indeed as Ian Julier notes emphatic of the con moto instruction. First and second violins are in constantly animated life, the anticipatory cello and double bass lines brought out, the internal rhythm of the movement conveying ebullience without, remarkably, undue haste (though I suspect others will be more prescriptive of him here). The third movement fugato section is well delineated and the emphatic control of the finale an expected Weingartner hallmark where the pointing and cumulative tension are handled with assurance and command. The British Symphony Orchestra play well – they had made other recordings of note and were composed of ex-Servicemen, a number of whom doubtless played in other orchestras at the time (after all most members of British orchestras in the 1920s and early 1930s had been in the services during the War in some capacity or other).

Weingartner’s cycle of the Beethoven Symphonies – the first to be made – was an ad hoc affair. The Fifth for example was recorded acoustically with the LSO in 1924, again electrically with the Orchestra of the Royal Philharmonic Society (often misnamed the Old RPO or some such) in 1927, this splendidly dramatic British Symphony Orchestra traversal of 1932 and one year later with Beecham’s new LPO. The LPO was, domestically speaking, made to replace the 1927 recording because the British Symphony Orchestra set was never issued in Britain, Columbia thinking the matrices sounded too faint. The Sixth has a simpler history. This is Weingartner’s sole recording of it, an earlier 1924 attempt, made at the same time as the 1924 LSO sessions, having been abandoned incomplete. Once again his directness, surety of line and sense of the relative speed of each component of symphonic form hold him in good stead. He brings out the rhythmic potential of the first movement and the sense of form and weight that lies behind the Pastoral. It’s no accident that his opening movement takes nine minutes and Pfitzner’s eleven. In the Scene by the Brook (a fast moving one by the sound of it, cool and fresh) he knocks three minutes off Pfitzner (and I won’t tell you what he knocks off Beecham’s leisurely traversal twenty-five years later when this movement was routinely being taken slower and slower). The entry points are alive, the murmuring middle voices intoxicating – an odd word to use of Weingartner to be sure but there you are – the pizzicatos pointing the rhythm delightfully, the bassoon and clarinet solos of elysian charm; a fast movement, far too fast I’m sure for many, but not unaffectionate and malleably part of the symphonic shape of the work. I’m not sure quite who those characterful woodwind players were but some elite musicians were employed for the Society’s orchestra, including clarinettist Charles Draper and his brother, bassoonist Paul, a trio of Brain hornists and variously Fransella and Murchie as flautists. So it may well be A.E. Brain Jun who is so fine in the Peasants’ Merrymaking – a rousing, stomping affair. The Thunderstorm is full of punchy dynamics, brass effulgence and dramatic immediacy and the finale, all 7.48 of it [Pfitzner 10.51 for example] is as concrete an example as one could find of aspiration and direction co-existing in a symphonic movement. This is the logical culmination of the work from the first bars and like it or not the drive and curve leads inexorably to the almost curt final chords that end the work.

As a bonus there are the light hearted Viennese Dances played with finesse and affectionate authority by the conductor with the 1938 LPO in fine form. Mark Obert-Thorn’s transfers are excellent revealing depth and clarity. This cycle is a cornerstone in Beethoven Symphony cycles – the first and still one of the most authoritative.

Jonathan Woolf



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