Ludwig van BEETHOVEN(1770 - 1827)
Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op.21 (1800) [25:45] Johannes
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68 (1876) [47:40]
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Willem Mengelberg
rec. live, Concertgebouw, 1940 PRISTINE AUDIO XR PASC221 [73:38]
Mengelberg's live Beethoven cycle of 1940 has been reissued
a number of times over the years, principally by Lys, Music
& Arts and Philips. The novelty here lies in the new
restoration by Pristine Audio, which has issued the entire set,
and of which I have three discs to review - one of them includes
the Brahms First Symphony.
These are incandescent performances, wilful, full of agogic
distortions, rhetorical in places, replete with rhythmic licence
and personalised to the point, sometimes, almost of caricature.
Yet they are also leonine in their way, often overwhelming,
and carrying conviction even when at their most rhythmically
The opening of the Fourth has a small amount of distortion
but it passes quickly and becomes nicely clarified. This is
one of the most successful of the performances, though even
here subject to certain outsize gestures. Those famous
Mengelbergian baton raps announce the Fifth, an adamantine affair,
with rhythmic latitude and a theatrical sense of projection.
The Concertgebouw cellos and basses are powerfully present in
the balance, and though the phrasing is always unsettled, and
there is constant metrical elasticity, the performance achieves
its own sense of outsize monumentality. The Second Symphony
is another big affair - one senses that Mengelberg never lets
up in the canon, never sees any of the even numbered or early
symphonies as deserving of less pressing treatment. And the
Eighth is similarly treated, though along with the Fourth
it's also one of the most successful. There’s a full complement
of brio and even if the horns get a little ragged later on,
they characterise with charm. The Fidelio overture in this disc
is trenchant and forceful.
There's a live 1943 account of the Brahms symphony and it's
not dissimilar to this 1940 traversal. The late romantic ritardandi
are part of a complex series of outsize expressive gestures
and are maximal here, the ebbing and flowing of the line
and its constant fluctuation subject to a martinet personality
with a rapturous sense of line and length.
These performances, as I noted, are all very well known. Pristine
Audio’s restorations sound pretty good to me, boosting
definition, mitigating degradation.
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