These are Beethoven readings of another age, with some downright farcical
extremes of tempi and lavish orchestral sounds that tend to make the music
sound sluggish at times. However there is also no denying Sir John's obvious
affection for the music especially in his muscular reading of the 'Egmont'
Overture which has been superbly restored by Michael Dutton. The Hallé
Pye recordings are obviously much richer and rounded in tone, although one
can also see why they did not make all that success in the late 50's. When
compared to the greatness of Klemperer, Furtwangler or Karajan, these records
pale into insignificance.
The First symphony suffers from some indifferent playing and squeaky string
tone although the marvellous opening Adagio is beautifully sustained. Still
I yearned for Cluytens classic contemporaneous BPO account or the studious
wonderment that infects Karajan's 1953 studio recording with the Philharmonia.
Pye's engineering is also curiously artificial with just a little bit too
much 'top' on those feeble Halle' strings. Sometimes I wonder what the fuss
was all about! The same dreary spirit pervades this Eighth which definitely
does not bounce in the way the 1963 Karajan does. Barbirolli chooses to adopt
leisurely tempi, and though the greater clarity and detail are welcomed,
the spirit is definitely weaker.
Once again, the collector is referred to Karajan's model accounts of this
symphony, indeed I feel that the 1946 VPO (EMI) recording is the best for
spiritual nostalgia and classical feeling. Barbirolli's interpretations of
'Leonora No. 3' and 'Egmont' also suffer from stultifying mannerisms with
the former taking a mammoth fifteen minutes! Matters improve considerably
in the classic 'Emperor' recording with the underrated Mindru Katz as soloist.
A faithful balance between soloist and orchestra allows for rapt poetic exchanges
between both and the thrilling momentum of the music is perfectly brought
Poetry is the order of the day in this sublime music and I would say that
Barbirolli and Katz match the fervor of Wilhelm Kempff's classic BPO recordings
with Ferdinand Leitner at some degrees. A heavy-handed Beethoven Fifth recorded
in 1947 completes the set. This version tells us nothing new about triumph
and the collector would better stick to his Klemperers, Karajans or Kleibers
to get to the heart of the matter. Maddeningly variable then, but still JB
fans will not hesitate. Others must tread with caution.