The perfect Beethoven Symphony Cycle

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The perfect Beethoven Symphony Cycle

Of course, this can never exist.  How about the perfect cycle?  Who would be your ideal performance of each individual symphony?  There almost always seems to be at least one disappointment in any complete cycle, so if we could pick and choose a boxed set of the complete symphonies with each one performed by a different conductor and orchestra, what would it be? 

RE: The perfect Beethoven Symphony Cycle

Favourite CDs are:-
Symphonies 1 and 2 Hogwood
Symphony 3 Klemperer (EMI Stereo)
Symphonies 2 and 4 Klemperer
Symphonies 3,5,6 and 7 Reiner
Symphony 6 Klemperer
Symphonies 3,5 and 7 Furtwangler (tahra 52 and 54)
Symphony 9 Furtwangler (tahra 1954)
Symphony 9 Klemperer.
......and I'm under 50, this list looks old.

RE: The perfect Beethoven Symphony Cycle

The usual Vanitas Vanitatum!

From the replies you may receive, you may figure out how futile is your quest.

However, somebody may contemplate to create a thread on the role, significance and influence in music and beyond of these great works of Art. It's interesting to try to identify the "best" performances, without having asked yourself whether you "own" (comprehend) these and any other work in classical music. Performances are pretty much related to the perception of the work in question by the performers as well as the...listeners.

Good luck, anyhow.

Parla

RE: The perfect Beethoven Symphony Cycle

There is of course no definitive performance of anything. I remember years ago when Klemperer's EMI recording of the 9th came out at least one critic (I think Gramophone's) considered it the last word, why I didn't know then and still don't. The bass, for example, is a complete let down - just compare him to Weingartner's Richard Mayr. It might be easier to make a list of recordings to be avoided than to come up with a definitive list but I wouldn't want to try that one either. Life's too short.

Bliss
RE: The perfect Beethoven Symphony Cycle

The Gramophone called Klemperer's 9th monumental, as I remember.

It was certainly that. I had the two LP set in stereo (the mono had Egmont on the 4th side).

Not having heard all of the complete sets available and having no desire to do so it is difficult to list any other than one's own personal favourites and at this moment in time.

1 & 2: Cluytens, Marriner.

2: Klemperer, Norrington (EMI).

3: Klemperer (1955), Bruggen, E. Kleiber.

4: Klemperer, Norrington (EMI).

5: Klemperer (1956), Cluytens, C. Kleiber.

6: Cluytens (both recordings), Bohm.

7: Davis (RPO/EMI), Konwitschny, C. Kleiber, Hogwood.

8: Norrington(EMI).

9: Karajan (1962), Norrington(EMI), Abbado (Sony), Furtwangler (Bayreuth),

    Cluytens.

Oh dear, not many modern recordings there, I'm afraid.

RE: The perfect Beethoven Symphony Cycle

I am glad to learn that I am not the only music lover with a penchant for the old guard of conductors in this repertoire. I usually keep my music taste to myself for fear of being castigated by the powerful 'authentic' lobby but ready to 'come out' when among friends.

For completeness, I think one should not forget Paul Kletzki's cycle with the Czech Philharmonic. They were (and are) a cracking band with an inherent inner sense of rhythm (or pulse) which is important for the successful execution of these symphonies. Listening to them inevitably brings a smile to the face, such is the 'rightness' of the performances.

My favourite cycle is completed by Casals in symphonies no 6-8 for sheer joy and playfullness and Ferenc Fricsay in the 9th for a never unfailing grip on proceedings, transparency of textures and Fernhoer:

1. Casals, Kletzki

2. Klemperer, Carlos Kleiber (Orfeo)

3. Klemperer (I prefer the stereo version to the more famous 1955 mono)

4. Kletzki, Carlos Kleiber

5. Kletzki, Klemperer

6. Casals, Klemperer

7. Casals, Karajan (VSO)

8. Casals

9. Fricsay, Szell

But maybe this is not a very scientific approach.

 

RE: The perfect Beethoven Symphony Cycle

Ought not the "preferred" Beethoven Symphony Cycle to be by one conductor? Otherwise it's surely not a cycle. Otto Klemperer, then, but not necessarily in the EMI studio performances. The Philharmonia cycle recorded live in Vienna in 1960 is electric from beginning to end. I bought it for 20 Euros in Berlin last year. Walter Legge of EMI totally ignored the fact that Klemperer was a conductor of the theatre, nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the Testament recording of Beethoven 9th at the Festival Hall in 1957 - a great performance that contrasts with the disappointing EMI studio recording made at the same time. There are other great Klemperer live recordings from the 50s that have recently been released including a wonderful 9th with the Cologne Radio Orchestra in 1958.

RE: The perfect Beethoven Symphony Cycle

I forgot to mention Douglas Boyd's extraordinary recording of the 7th. A performance with a smallish orchestra which provides all the clarity required but, importantly, with the necessary weight.

There, I've found a recent recording that I like!

RE: The perfect Beethoven Symphony Cycle

bacchus2599 wrote:

Fidelio was a studio recording (Zauberflote too). The capture of the live performance from Covent Garden is the greater performance - proving my point, I think. Legge insisted on selecting almost a completely new set of soloists for the later recording, much against Klemperer's wishes. But how can a studio recording, assembled take-by-take over days or weeks, not following the natural sequence of the work, but rather artists' schedules, capture the white heat of inspiration of a complete performance of a work?

But that was how it was done in those days. Live performances on disc was the exception rather than the rule for various reasons, not all of them technical.

Nowadays, of course it is the other way round with live performances, assembled over several nights, from the world's opera houses and renowned orchestras producing their own labels.

RE: The perfect Beethoven Symphony Cycle

Some interesting responses, particularly the prominence of Klemperer.  Is this a backlash against the "period instrument brigade"?  For what it's worth I add my thoughts:

Symphonies 1 & 2 Zinman, Zurich Tonhalle Orch, or Paavo Jarvi, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie

Symphony 3 Karajan (2nd DG cycle)

Symphonies 4, 5, 6, 7 Carlos Kleiber

Symphony 6 also Karl Bohm

Symphony 8 Abbado (from DG cycle with Berlin Phil, recorded Rome Feb 2001)

Symphony 9 BPO Karajan 1962 performance DG

.. and then I haven't chosen any from Mackerras' superb cycle on Hyperion with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra 1-8 and Philharmonia 9.

Interesting that no-one has mentioned the marvellous Cleveland cycle by George Szell, or Ivan Fischer with the Budapest Festival Orchestra in nos 4, 6 & 7 - an inspired conductor and orchestra always with some to say.

Of course nobody is wrong - it's a matter of individual preference.  Wonderful to debate the various performances and their merits.

 

RE: The perfect Beethoven Symphony Cycle

Interesting that no one has mentioned Toscanini. His Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York recording of the 7th Symphony in 1936 has long been heralded as one of the finest ever. His numerous live and studio recordings with that orchestra, the NBC and the BBC Symphony Orchestras would make interesting comparisons with those conductors already cited. I leave that to others.

Bliss

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