Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No 1 in C major, Op. 21 a * [21’12"]
Symphony No 2 in D major, Op. 36 b ** [29’54"]
‘Leonora’ Overture No 2, Op. 72a b *** [12’48"]
‘Fidelio’ Overture, Op. 72b c **** [5’56"]
‘The Ruins of Athens’ Overture, Op, 113 b ***** [3’ 37"]
‘The Creatures of Prometheus’ Overture, Op. 43 a ****** [4’38"]
a Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Felix Weingartner
b London Symphony Orchestra/Felix Weingartner
c London Philharmonic Orchestra/Felix Weingartner
Rec. * 19 October, 1937 in the Mittlerer Konzerthaussaal, Vienna; ** 2 March, 1938 in EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London; *** 14 February, 1938 in EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London; **** 7 October, 1938 in EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London; ***** 29 February, 1940 in Kingsway Hall, London; ****** 25 February, 1936 in the Mittlerer Konzerthaussaal, Vienna
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110856 [73’37"]

 

I must confess that until now I don’t recall having had an opportunity to hear Felix Weingartner (1863-1942) conduct Beethoven. So I was fascinated to find Naxos issuing what was, in fact, the first ever complete recorded traversal of the Beethoven canon by one conductor. In contrast with the strategies of today’s recording industry, I don’t believe a complete cycle was envisaged at the time by EMI; it just evolved. This release is the first in a series by Naxos.

Though his reputation has faded somewhat, Weingartner was a much-respected figure in his day. As well as conducting he composed a good deal though, as Ian Julier says in his most informative note, "the dust was quick to settle on many of his works after just the first series of performances." Weingartner’s reputation was built chiefly on his conducting, and especially on his performances of Beethoven. On the evidence of this release I’m impressed with the energy and integrity of his performances even if ensemble is not always perfect. It is worth also quoting part of a comment of Neville Cardus which Ian Julier reproduces. Cardus said of Weingartner that he belonged to "the cultured epoch of music, the epoch of good manners and taste – and sound scholarship." The contents of this CD serve to confirm that judgement.

Coincidentally, I’ve also been listening recently to a Naxos issue of Toscanini conducting Beethoven’s First Symphony, a reading which was set down in London just six days after Weingartner made the recording issued here. To my ears Weingartner generally holds his performances on a slightly tighter rein. I don’t mean by that to imply a preference for one conductor over the other; both their approaches seem to work well. What I thought was indisputable was that Toscanini gets even better playing out of the BBC Symphony Orchestra than Weingartner obtains from the Vienna players. My colleague, Jonathan Woolf, in reviewing these same Weingartner performances, has pointed out that Weingartner’s relations with the VPO were less than cordial at the time. This may well have accounted for the results he gets from them though I subsequently listened to his recordings of Beethoven’s Seventh and Eighth, also made with the VPO in the same period, where the playing was livelier and the ensemble crisper. Perhaps the recording of the First just found players or conductor (or both) ever so slightly below top form.

In this performance Weingartner, unlike Toscanini, eschews the exposition repeat in both the first and second movements, something which I regret. His first movement introduction is dignified and the main allegro is clear-eyed and forward moving. The second movement has an easy natural flow and I appreciated the idiomatic phrasing though I feel that Toscanini’s version is even better. The Menuetto is lithe and lively. Quite why Beethoven called the movement a minuet I’m not sure when the tempo marking, allegro molto e vivace and the musical material so clearly imply a scherzo. The finale bubbles along gaily with plenty of the conductor’s famous energy.

Most of the rest of the contents of this CD are recordings made in London. The Second Symphony goes well. From the outset I felt the tone of the LSO had more depth than that of their Viennese counterparts and I don’t think this is just down to the different recorded sound. The Londoners also display greater unanimity in their playing. As in the First symphony Weingartner’s direction of the opening allegro is clear and direct. Characteristically, he omits the exposition repeat. Throughout the movement the rhythms are well sprung and the vital sforzandi are properly observed. In the larghetto I detected greater warmth in the LSO winds than was the case with the VPO wind section. In fact, there’s some good characterful playing hereabouts by all concerned. The music is well phrased and I like the way in which all the separate lines register - a characteristic of all the performances. The scherzo is properly dashing and there’s a puckish performance of the finale. Overall, this is a very successful, sprightly performance.

All the overtures go well. In ‘Leonore’ No. 2 Weingartner conveys an excellent sense of suspense in the introduction and there’s dramatic urgency in his handling of the main allegro. The performance of ‘Prometheus’ is spruce and alert and I thought the VPO were on tidier form than was the case in the symphony.

There is a useful, interesting note by Ian Julier and the transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn, which are taken from US Columbia pressings, are good. Inevitably there’s some surface noise but nothing that will distract from enjoyment of the music. On my equipment I thought the transfer of the Second Symphony reproduced particularly successfully.

On the evidence of this CD Felix Weingartner was a far from inconsiderable conductor of Beethoven. I have much enjoyed this disc and look forward to future releases in the series. Recommended.
John Quinn

 



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