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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Die Ruinen von Athen (The Ruins of Athens)
Chorus Cathedralis Aboensis
Turku Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam
rec. 2018, Turku Concert Hall, Turku, Finland
German sung texts and English translations can be accessed via the Naxos website NAXOS 8.574076 [81:54]
This complete recording of The Ruins of Athens is described as a “World premiere recording of version with narration”; indeed, most of the music here will not be familiar to the general listener, with the exception, perhaps, of the two overtures and the Turkish March, so there’s the hook for this issue.
The Ruins of Athens is a set of incidental music pieces written in 1811 to accompany the play of the same name by August von Kotzebue, for the dedication of a new theatre at Pest. In 1822 the play was revived for the reopening of Vienna's Theater in der Josefstadt with a revised libretto by Carl Meisl, for which Beethoven wrote a new overture, The Consecration of the House and added a chorus "Wo sich die Pulse". Neither overture is as compelling as his most celebrated ventures in that genre, such as Egmont or the Coriolan, but they are supreme masterpieces and Beethoven is still Beethoven, after all, so both those here engage the ear, especially as they are played with vigour and commitment by the veteran Segerstam and the excellent Turku Philharmonic Orchestra. The other familiar piece, the Turkish March, is given a lively, witty performance.
The rest of the music on this very well-filled disc is decidedly more obscure and in truth is well-crafted but often rather routine and negligible. The small choir is not the most polished of outfits, with some squeaky sopranos and ill-blended singing, and I derive little pleasure from the wobbly, hard-toned soprano soloist’s attempts to navigate the fioriture of her numbers. The problem, too, with including all the German dialogue in recordings of Singspiel works is that twenty minutes or so of it is of limited interest to non-German-speakers and – well, it isn’t music. Given that we can access the overtures in collections and that otherwise its musical appeal is limited, I cannot summon up much enthusiasm for it. Bass Juha Kotilainen sings pleasantly in his couple of contributions and trawling through the whole set for musical nuggets does indeed turn up some rewarding numbers, such as the duet for the Greek Man and Greek Woman (track 8) but the soprano’s wobble again compromises our enjoyment of it.
I cannot in all honesty see retuning to this rather strange and ultimately slightly amateurish project.
Contents Die Weihe des Hauses (The Consecration of the House)
1. Overture, Op. 124 (1822) [12:02]
2. Musik zu Carl Meisl Gelegenheitsfestspiel, Hess 118
Invisible Chorus: No. 1, Folge dem mächtigen Ruf der Ehre! (1811) [3:32]
3. Chorus with soprano solo: "Wo sich die Pulse", WoO 98 (1822) [6:28]
Reeta Haavisto (soprano) Die Ruinen von Athen (The Ruins of Athens)
4. March with Chorus: No. 6, Schmückt die Altare, Op. 114 (1811) [6:59]
5 – 20: Op. 113 (1822)* [52:54]
Minerva: Angela Eberlein (narrator); Merkur: Claus Obalski (narrator); (soprano); Greek Man/Chief Priest: Juha Kotilainen (bass); Greek Woman: Reeta Haavisto; Greek Man: Roland Astor (narrator); Maiden: Leah Sinka (narrator); Second Turk: Ernst Oder (narrator)
*World premiere recording of version with narration