Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No 1 in C major Op 21 (1800)
Symphony No 2 in D major Op 36 (1801-02)
Leonore Overture No 2 Op 72a (1805)
Fidelio; Overture Op 72b (1814)
The Ruins of Athens; Overture Op 113 (1812)
The Creatures of Prometheus; Overture Op 43 (1801)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (Symphony No 1 and The Creatures of Prometheus)
London Symphony Orchestra (Symphony No 2, Leonore, The Ruins of Athens)
London Philharmonic Orchestra (Fidelio)
Felix Weingartner
Recorded 1936-40
NAXOS 8.110856 [73.37]

Fred Gaisberg, who produced a number of Weingartner’s recordings, notes in his book Music on Record that when it came to the Vienna Philharmonic sessions "Weingartner treated them with a frigid detachment, and they responded with grudging correctness." The conductor had made the first of his comparatively few recordings – especially for so assuredly great a musician – in 1910 when he accompanied his American soprano wife, Lucille Marcel, in some of his own songs. By the time of the Vienna sessions here – 1936 and 1937 – his relations with the Orchestra were, as Gaisberg observed, more than slightly cool. Which is doubtless why, at around this time, he was better known for his work with the "other" Viennese orchestra, the Symphony, with whom he toured extensively (though no recordings were made, so far as I know).

The recordings of the first two Beethoven symphonies enshrined here in Naxos’s new series come hot on the heels of their release of the German Grammophon Beethoven Symphony cycle which had been begun in the late 1920s and of which a large share had been taken by Hans Pfitzner. Competing with oneself in repertoire of this kind is no hardship however and collectors now have the luxury of a Naxos Pfitzner/Berlin or a Weingartner/Vienna First Symphony. In the Second one can sample Erich Kleiber’s Berlin Staatskapelle recording in challenging competition to this later Weingartner/London Symphony traversal. So, plenty of choices in the Austro-German arena without even casting the net wider. The first two symphonies conform to Weingartner’s prevailing Beethovenian orthodoxy when it comes to matter of rubato and tempo adjustments and tinkering with orchestration. These are generous but controlled readings, ones moreover that bear out (as, say, the Eroica recording doesn’t quite) Weingartner’s observance of his own precepts. In the Third his approach in the second movement explicitly contradicts comments in his book on Beethoven’s Symphonies; his tempo range is quite extreme and contravenes explicit advice to maintain a more correlative tempo. In the case of the earlier symphonies we are faced with no such complexities.

There is elegance and considerable refinement in the opening movement of the C major; no modified tempi here and as a performance easily distinguishable from Toscanini’s thrust or Pfitzner’s own strangely withdrawn account. The inner part writing of the slow movement is brought out with clarity and directness. There is also a sense in which one feels the unfolding of a perfectly natural rhythm – nothing seems artificial or imposed or in any sense motoric. He makes a bold accelerando as the Scherzo concludes and the finale is splendidly bracing. True there are one or two slight moments of string imprecision amongst the first violins, especially in the tuttis, but these are passing moments. The Second Symphony was recorded in London the following year, part of the cycle – the first Beethoven cycle in fact by one conductor on record, though he was to re-record some of the symphonies. The LSO use more portamento than their Viennese counterparts and the strings are heavier and less obviously stylish but there is a solid musicality to the playing that commands attention. The first movement is attractive if very slightly solid but Weingartner scores heavily in the Larghetto. He takes this, in comparison with a younger man such as Erich Kleiber, rather more quickly. There is a splendid intensity to the string phrasing and a sense of linearity and strong movement if quite without a sense of injurious haste. The Scherzo is alert and the finale receives one of his virtuously straightforward accounts, devoid of show, and all the better for it. The remaining items go some way to challenging Bruno Walter’s remark that Weingartner wasn’t "dynamic" enough in opera. Leonore No 2 for example is quite sufficiently fiery and the overture to Fidelio is subtle rather than over played.

This is an auspicious start to the Weingartner-Beethoven series. The transfers, by Mark Obert-Thorn, have used the American Columbia pressings and they sound quiet and full of colour.

Jonathan Woolf


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