Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 - 1827)
Egmont - incidental music to Goethe’s tragedy,Op. 84 (1810) [40:15]
1. Overture [9:03]
2. No. 1 Act I, Scene 3: Die Trommel gerühret! (Clärchen)* [2:55]
3. No. 2 First Entr’acte: Andante [3:37]
4. No. 3 Second Entr’acte: Larghetto [5:48]
5. No. 4 Act III, Scene 2: Freudvoll und leidvoll (Clärchen)* [1:28]
6. No. 5 Third Entr’acte: Allegro - Marcia, Vivace [4:18]
7. No. 6 Fourth Entr’acte: Larghetto [3:40]
8. No. 7 Act V, Scene 3: Death of Clärchen [2:38]
9. No. 8 Act V, Scene 4: Melodrama (Egmont)** [5:23]
10. No. 9 Act V, Scene 4: Symphony of Victory [1:25]
11. March No. 1 in F major (Yorck’scher Marsch), WoO 18 [1:27]
12. March No. 2 in F major, WoO 19 [1:47]
13. Scena and Aria: Ah! perfido, Op. 65* [11:47]
Madeleine Pierard (soprano)*, Claus Obalski (narrator)**
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/James Judd
rec. Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand, 10-12 February 2003 (1, 3, 4, 6-12) and Wellington Town Hall, 14-15 August 2007 (2, 5, 13)
Sung and spoken texts with English translations are included in the booklet.
NAXOS 8.557264 [55:15]

During the first years of the new century Beethoven had written music for a ballet, Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus, started working on his sole opera Fidelio and composed an overture for Heinrich von Collin’s play Coriolan. He was therefore no newcomer to writing for the stage when the Court Theatre in Vienna commissioned incidental music for Goethe’s Egmont for the 1809-1810 season. Goethe’s play was written thirty years earlier but the subject, a rebellion taking arms against an oppressing invader, was still topical and for Beethoven this subject must have been close to his heart, political freedom always central to his ethics. It seems however that the last spark of inspiration eluded him and the score wasn’t finished in time for the premiere. At the third performance, three weeks later, it was heard and it is likely that Clärchen’s two songs were performed earlier. Maybe I am biased through this knowledge but I have a feeling that some of the orchestral pieces are professional rather than deeply inspired.

The programmatic overture is rightly an established masterpiece, maybe his best composition in this genre, and James Judd and his admirable New Zealand forces present it in all its glory, rather brisk and dynamic. But the four entr’actes fail to inspire me, even though the Marcia in No. 3 is fresh and attractive. It is not until the last act that I become really engrossed in the music: Clärchen’s deeply-felt death, Egmont’s Melodrama - excellently performed by Claus Obalski - with its optimistic final pages followed by the symbolic Symphony of Victory, which we already know from the end of the overture.

Clärchen’s two songs are another matter. They are fresh and charming and immediately attractive, in particular Die Trommel gerühret! (tr. 2), with its catchy melody and swaggering march rhythm. I have long cherished Janet Baker’s recordings of them on a thirty-year-old Philips record. Madeleine Pierard is lighter and more lyrical, less formidable, but her readings are very attractive and she sings extremely well.

Janet Baker’s is again one of my favourite readings of the mighty Ah! perfido, a grandiose interpretation that not even Birgit Nilsson and Christa Ludwig surpass. Ms Pierard exposes however a dramatic voice with true bite while retaining her beautiful rounded tone. The opening recitative is truly expressive and Per pietà is sung simply and lyrically. Throughout this is a very beautiful reading. This is a singer I hope to hear more of.

The two short marches, contemporaneous with the Egmont music, are rather brash. They were commissioned by Archduke Anton and performed to celebrate the birthday of the Empress. The celebrations took place at a tournament, reason enough for the rather rough quality. Beethoven knew what he was about and called them ‘music for horses’.

Those curious for some not too often heard music by Beethoven can safely invest in this well played disc. There is some fine music from the last act of Egmont, the overture is a masterpiece and one gets some great vocal items in the bargain. The sound quality could hardly be bettered.

Göran Forsling