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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony no.2 in D op.36 (1802) [34.55]
Symphony no.3 in E flat, op.55 (Eroica) (1805) [55.38]
Symphony no.5 in C minor op.67 (1808) [36.54]
Symphony no.7 in A op.92 (1812) [36.51]
Symphony no.8 in F op.93 (1812) [28.10]
Symphony no.9 in D minor op.125 (Choral) – finale: excerpt only (1824) [4.29]
Piano Concerto No.4 in G major op.58 (1808) [32.20]
Erna Berger (soprano) and Torsten Ralf (tenor) with unknown contralto and bass/Bruno Kittel Choir/Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra 1943 – Symphony No.9
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (Symphonies Nos. 5 and 8)
Wilhelm Backhaus (piano)/ Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (Concerto)
Bremen State Philharmonic Orchestra (Symphonies No.2 and 3)
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra (Symphony No.7)
Hans Knappertsbusch
rec. 1943-1956. ADD
ANDROMEDA ANDRCD 5017 [3 CDs: 78.49 + 76.57 + 73.45]
The contents of this three CD set are very similar to that of Melodram 4.0040 which contained five symphonies, the Fourth Concerto and two overtures – Coriolan and Leonore No.3. The concerto performance is the same – Backhaus, Vienna, 1954 - as is the Bremen Second Symphony. The Eroica however is not the Munich 1955 performance but a 1951 Bremen and the Fifth is not the 1962 Hessian Radio but a 1956 Berlin Philharmonic. So there are overlaps but also some important differences.
What remains true is that these performances have been about before. They offer few if any surprises to Kna watchers. In fact they offer confirmation that, except when in collaboration, Knappertsbusch’s Beethoven had by this stage become a powerhouse of old school practices; old editions, old mannerisms, slow tempi, massive perorations. Personally I can take a lot of it – I can certainly take the Allegretto of the Seventh in his hands – much as one of my guiltier pleasures is Kna’s 1957 Brahms 4 in Cologne, parts of the slow movement of which ooze like slow moving lava. Can’t beat it.
Still, for many people his Beethoven is a lost cause. The Eroica opens with massive separated chords, rugged and powerful, if not textually to the letter. His Bremen forces, not the world’s finest, offer rather woolly support instrumentally but Kna’s conception remains, of its kind, impressive and the funeral march generates profound power. The Second Symphony is compromised by the Bremen band’s playing, ensemble discipline and tuning of which are not good. Still, that gaunt opening Adagio is impressive – the primal sense Kna evokes is always there – and there’s a really forthright if blustery scherzo. The Munich orchestra is a step up from Bremen though Kna seems to have imbued it with some of his own rather shaggy monumentality for the Seventh. I doubt even the most generous of souls could say that his finale is an allegro con brio; in fact there’s a case to be made that it’s not even an allegro at all. Still, it’s of a piece and judged in tempo-relation terms it exhibits a certain consistency.
The Fifth isn’t as marmoreal as it was later to become but it’s still heavy going – in fact it elicits very tepid applause at the end. The Berlin horns are rather blustery and things are heavily underlined. The highly emphatic performance has some passingly lovely things – try the string curve at 4.40 in the slow movement – but this is in truth a dumpling of a performance. The Piano Concerto with frequent collaborator Backhaus is good. The sonics are muffly and unhelpful, unfortunately, which mitigates pleasure but through them one can still hear the soloist’s fluent and thoughtful performance, the more so as she’s somewhat over–recorded. The first movement cadenza really blazes and the slow movement is expressive. This is a worthwhile addition to the Kna-Backhaus discography, though admirers will already have it on their shelves. The Eighth is consistent with the other symphonies in both sonority and tempo and don’t be taken in by the Ninth – this is a four minute snippet only.
Rather like many another Andromeda I’ve sampled this one adds nothing to the domain but might prove a cheap and cheerful purchase for the non-specialist. As usual there are no notes and the sound doesn’t seem to have been subjected to any serious quality improvement despite the box’s claim.
Jonathan Woolf




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