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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 - 1827)
The Creatures of Prometheus: Overture - 1; Allegretto; Finale

Coriolan Overture,Op.62 - 2
Leonore Overture No. 2 - 3
Egmont Overture Op. 84 - 4
Symphony No.8 in F – 2nd Movement - 5
Ruins of Athens Overture, Op.113 - Turkish March - 6
Franz Josef SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)

Marche Militaire in D major Op. 51 No.3- D733 - 7
Rosamunde Overture D.164 - 8
Concertgebouw Orchestra, conducted by Willem Mengelberg.
All recorded in the Concertgebouw Hall, Amsterdam.1/11/42 (1), 1/6/31 (2), 2/6/31 (3), 30/5/30 (4), 2/6/31 (5), 10/6/27 (6), 1/11/42 (7), 17/4/42 (8), and 30/11/38, (9). ADD
NAXOS 8.110864 [68’30"]

When I reviewed an earlier recording in this series of transcriptions by Mark Obert-Thorn I hoped that more would be forthcoming from this source, and here it is - a selection of recordings of Beethoven and Schubert by the Concertgebouw Orchestra under their then conductor in chief, Willem Mengelberg.

Many music lovers will have heard of Mengelberg’s habit of glissandi in inappropriate places, plus pulling the music out of shape and ruining the structures built in by the composers. Whilst this might be true for the large romantic works of Strauss and Tchaikovsky, it certainly isn’t so for Beethoven.

What we have here are superb transfers made of studio recordings played absolutely straight, with only an absolute minimum of rythmic distortion. Before you might think that this leads to boredom, let me assure you that these performances are as vital as anyone could hope for. In a few of the tracks, the Creatures of Prometheus for example, we hear the lovely fluid woodwind sound, for which the Concertgebouw was famous, and which was further developed by Mengelberg’s successor, Eduard van Beinum (who also, for example, made a superb recording of Prometheus with the LPO).

This is not just the more familiar Overture, but also included are the Allegretto and Finale from the incidental music, the former familiar to anyone who knows the Eroica (last movement), or both from the Contradanses.

When we reach the more substantial overtures we have the favourite items much loved by conductors, orchestras and record companies alike. In these performances, only those looking for the latest in modern digital sound are likely to be disappointed. The sound quality in these transfers is by definition, fairly basic, but quite easily listenable to as are others in this series. The basic thing that helps the transfer engineer in his quest for good sound quality is the balance of the original 78 rpm recordings. Mengelberg was a master of this art, and not only could he achieve this balance, he also had perhaps the best trained orchestra in Europe at the time, maybe even the world. In addition, he could conjure up the sense of a live performance in the studio, as could some but not others.

The two Leonore Overtures are very exciting and played almost to perfection, there being tiny bits of glissandi in the allegro section of No. 1. In No. 3, the very bright Concertgebouw trumpets come over a treat in the alarm call as they do in the coda of Egmont.

Concluding this release we have the Ruins of Athens Overture, the scherzo from Beethoven No. 8, and two short works by Schubert. These versions are historically incorrect but sound more like some modern performances, but with the life left in.

Another superb historical issue from Naxos – More please.

John Phillips

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