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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 10 (1st Movement) realised and completed by Barry Cooper [14.21]
Gratulations-Menuett WoO 3 [4.41]
Overture Die Ruinen von Athen Op. 113 [4.57]
Overture Namensfeier Op. 115 [6.47]
Overture König Stefan Op. 117 [7.07]
Overture Fidelio Op. 72 [6.19]
Trauermarsch from Leonora Prohaska WoO 96 [4.44]
Overture Die Weihe des Hauses Op. 124 [11.24]
Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra/Douglas Bostock
Rec. April 2003, The House of Music, Pardubice, Czech Republic DDD
CLASSICO CLASSCD 472 [61.21]

 

The subtitle of this disc is Symphony No 10 and late overtures etc. It makes for an intriguing programming combination because, much as we might think that Beethoven’s works are well known, a great deal of this music is quite obscure. The first movement of a projected 10th symphony is not a new creation at all – it was premiered by the Royal Philharmonic Society of London (for a commission from whom Beethoven had begun the work) in 1988 and has been performed in about twenty countries, and recorded since then. However, in comparison with most symphonic Beethoven, it remains something of a novelty. The "late" overtures include that to Fidelio, which, as Op. 72 can’t really be considered that late, but also a collection of theatre music from Beethoven’s last years. Of these the overtures Die Weihe des Hauses (‘The consecration of the house’) and maybe Die Ruinen von Athen (‘The ruins of Athens’) are reasonably well-known, but the Namensfeier and König Stefan overtures do not get much exposure; and the Gratulations-Menuett and funeral march from Leonora Prohaska must rank as obscurities. In the case of the former this is no bad thing – Beethoven at his most pedestrian.

Nonetheless, the contrast of familiar, if not hackneyed, material with some interesting rarities does make for an interesting listening experience, especially with a composer whom we tend to regard as so familiar. In the Cooper re-construction of the 10th symphony movement we hear a Beethoven more classical than in the 9th. The sketches that the composer left yielded some 300 bars of music. Dr Cooper added some 200 bars of development and extrapolation from this material, (as well as all the orchestration, of course) so it can at least be claimed that everything in the movement stems from Beethoven’s own material. The result certainly sounds Beethovenian, although in the context of a symphony that was to follow the 9th one does wonder how much more revision of the material Beethoven himself would have undertaken. As mentioned above, this is quite classical in execution, and feels more like the Beethoven of the 1st, 2nd or 8th symphonies than what one might expect in a 10th. Douglas Bostock has apparently worked closely in collaboration with Barry Cooper so the performance does have some degree of authority. The Czech Chamber Philharmonic performs with verve and energy, albeit with a somewhat harsh upper string tone in places.

Apart from the interesting project of the 10th symphony, the fascinating works on this recording are the overtures Namensfeier and König Stefan, the former being the only concert overture that Beethoven wrote. Gestated over a long period, it was originally considered for use as the overture to König Stefan or Die Ruinen von Athen, then recast from E flat into C and contemplated as a vehicle for the inclusion of Schiller's ‘Ode to Joy’ which eventually found its way instead into the 9th symphony. It was finally completed as an overture "for any occasion, or for concert use" and dated on the Emperor’s nameday 1814. This has lead to the title ‘Nameday’ overture.

Like the Namensfeier overture, that to the singspiel König Stefan is in a generally celebratory mood and is here performed with gusto and precision by Bostock’s Czech players, the winds and brass being especially fine. Like the music for Die Ruinen von Athen, this was written for the opening of a new theatre in Budapest, and both works were premiered there in 1812. As with the Namensfeier overture it is surprising that these excellent orchestral works are not heard as frequently as, for example, that to Fidelio, which shares many similarities with these pieces. Of slightly shorter length, but also of much interest is the Trauermarsch from Leonora Prohaska. The play was by the obscure Friedrich Duncker and Beethoven composed three short vocal numbers and the march for it. However, the play never made it to the stage and is now lost. The Trauermarsch is an arrangement of the ‘Funeral March on the death of a hero’ from the piano sonata Op. 26. This is an unusual aspect of Beethoven, but it is surprisingly successful and the orchestral treatment brings a sombre dignity that is very Beethovenian.

Very late Beethoven comes in the form of his last overture, the increasingly popular Die Weihe des Hauses. At over 11 minutes long this is a substantial overture and certainly to be rated amongst Beethoven’s finest orchestral music. Bostock has the measure of this work and the Czech Chamber Philharmonic treat the sweeping grandeur of the opening with dignified aplomb, carefully avoiding overblowing it into bombast. Again, woodwind and brass come across particularly well. Although overall the orchestral sound cannot be considered to be up there with the greatest orchestras of Europe, the performances are polished and convincing. Of more interest, the programme is imaginative and varied and presents the composer from a slightly different angle than just another series of the symphonies would allow. Especially for people who find bulk Beethoven somewhat overbearing, this disc brings a selection of fine orchestral music without so much of the weight and scowl.

Peter Wells

See also review by Michael Cookson



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