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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43: Overture [4’43"]; Allegretto [1’40"]; Finale [3’05"]
Recorded: 1 November 1942
Coriolan Overture, Op. 62 [7’37"]
Recorded 1 June 1931*
Leonore Overture No. 1. Op. 138 [8’59"]
Recorded 2 June 1931*
Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72a [13’01"]
Recorded 30 May 1930*
Egmont Overture, Op. 84 [7’59"]
Recorded 2 June 1931*
Symphony No 8 in F major, Op. 93: II Allegro scherzando [3’56"]
Recorded 10 June 1927*
The Ruins of Athens, Op. 113: Turkish March [3’06"]
Recorded 1 November 1942
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Marche militaire in D major, Op. 51, No. 1 (D.733) [4’29"]
Recorded 17 April, 1942
Rosamunde Overture (Die Zauberharfe) D.644 [9’15"]
Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam/Willem Mengelberg
All recordings made in the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam by Telefunken and * by Columbia ADD
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110864 [68’03"]

 

The recordings collected here were mostly made by Columbia though Telefunken were responsible for a few of them. By the 1940s the German company was achieving some remarkable sonic results. However, on this showing at least, Columbia were pretty successful in capturing Mengelberg and his orchestra in the 1930s.

Though there are no lengthy pieces on offer here Beethoven’s overtures were anything but insubstantial and Mengelberg gives splendid accounts of them. Throughout the disc one is conscious of a major musical mind at work.

So, for instance the opening to Coriolan has great power in Mengelberg’s hands while the allegro itself crackles with tension. The reading of Leonore No. 3 is especially successful. The long, brooding introduction is spaciously conceived and the allegro has a real dramatic thrust to it while the coda is properly exultant. I should also say that, thanks to the engineers, there’s an excellent sense of aural space round the distant trumpeter.

Mengelberg gives us a dark and powerful Egmont. Is it fanciful to surmise that this music had a special resonance for these musicians? After all it was written for a play about the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Revolt of the Netherlands which led to the end of Spanish rule there. This thought struck me throughout this taut performance of the overture but nowhere more so than in the electrifying coda.

I must be quite honest and say that the last four tracks on the disc don’t quite sustain the same level of interest as the overtures. The excerpt from Beethoven’s Eighth is perkily done, albeit with a fair degree of portamento, but one hankers for the complete work (the recording was originally the ‘filler’ for a Cherubini overture.) The marches by Beethoven and Schubert are both of pretty minor interest (though Mengelberg pays both pieces the compliment of playing them for all they’re worth.) The Schubert overture strikes me as rather a dull piece. Mengelberg, a much better judge than me, evidently felt differently and gives it a lithe, spirited reading. Here , as throughout the programme, his interpretative intentions are scrupulously realised by his excellent orchestra.

The transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn have come up pretty well. Yes, of course, there’s some surface hiss and occasional stridency or minor distortion. However, the transfers have opened up the original recordings very well, I think, and convey a good impression of what Mengelberg, his orchestra and their concert hall must have sounded like. Any sonic limitations did not impede my enjoyment in hearing a master conductor at work and this disc is another in what is becoming an extremely impressive list of Naxos historical issues.

John Quinn

see also reviews by Paul Serotsky and John Phillips


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