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Well, in order to choose one conductor for all symphonies I don't see how this couldn't be Furtwängler, vastly superior to anybody else, despite the poorer sound quality compared to more modern recordings. But he is just on a different planet. Only Bruno Walter equalles him in the Sixth Symphony, and gets just a notch below Furtwängler in the Seventh, as well as in the so-called minor symphonies (First, Second, Fourth, Eight). After this, I would say Klemperer, especially in the Eroica. Karajan is a good fourth: his Eroica, Fifth and Ninth are great. But all this Kleiber-mania ... I keep listening to his Sixth and Seventh only to find them "just" polite. Toscanini really suffocates Beethoven, just listen to his Fifth or Ninth, rushing from one musical phrase to another without breathing, depriving the music of the solemnity and poetry these symphonies deserve. I would regard all other conductors mentioned in this Forum as minor incidents in the history of conducting.
Well done, Lucio. Now, we know the answer and...the truth.
Well, I was only expressing my personal opinion, of course. I am anyhow curious to know why, besides Furtwängler, Klemperer, Karajan and Toscanini, nobody mentioned Bruno Walter among the great ones.
Fair enough, Lucio. The way you wrote your post seemed as someone who brought us the light in the darkness we dwell. Particularly, this "minor incidents" was spectacular.
By the way, it is not only Walter who is missing from the suggestions for the "best". Quite a few others, like Ormandy or Schuricht for instance, are not there.
Anyway, welcome once more.
Here goes my pick:
No. 1: Bohm/VPO
No. 2: Thielemann/VPO
No. 3: Bohm/VPO
No. 4: Karajan/BPO (1962 version)
No. 5: Furtwangler/VPO
No. 6: Haitink/LSO
No. 7: Kleiber/VPO
No. 8: Chailly/GWO
No. 9: Bernstein/VPO
Ok, sorry for the "minor incidents", it was meant to be ironical, but didn't come out right as a consequence of my limited English.
The "missing people club" is actually larger: what about Eugen Jochum?? And Cantelli, De Sabata, Knappertsbusch, Hermann Scherchen, ... Pierre Boulez (unforgettable Fifth and Seventh), Giulini, Barenboim, Sawallisch?
Now, everything in these discussions is subjective and personal, no question. Even when it is put in a declaratory style as I did. Nevertheless, this doesn't mean that one wouldn'like to share and discuss hi/her opinions with other music lovers. Anyhow, here is my pick:
1. Bruno Walter
2. Bruno Walter
3. Furtwängler (1944 VPO or 1952 BPO; strong alternative: Klemperer, any version, weak alternative Karajan 1962)
5. Furtwängler/VPO (his last studio recording, I believe 1954; alternatives: Klemperer, any version, or Karajan 1962)
6. Bruno Walter (any version; alternatives: Toscanini, Klemperer, Furtwängler)
7. Furtwängler/VPO (the last studio recording; very strong alternative: Bruno Walter NYP 1947, weak alternative Toscanini)
8. Bruno Walter (alternatives: Furtwängler, Toscanini)
9. Furtwängler (1954 Luzern or 1951 Bayreuth; ** in my opinion **, absolutely no alternatives)
This thread deals with a recurring subject showing interesting remarks in this iteration.
Furtwangler is certainly one of the great conductors in this repertoire but he's far from being alone imo, Lucio. I prefer his 9th from Lucerne (1954) to the Bayreuth one, however I tend to prefer Fricsay's superb reading (1957). His 6th w/ VPO (EMI) is outstanding and as to the coupling 5th & 7th, I prefer the war (1943) recordings w/ BPO.
Some people like the readings of Gardiner, Norrington, Harnoncourt.....but I feel them interesting only, they highlight some points to the detriment of the whole message. Is a Beethoven à la Haydn feasible? I don't think so.
Cluytens was deservedly brought to the list, but among French conductors the best Beethovenian imo is Pierre Monteux who recorded a splendid 3rd w/ RCO (Philips) and an incandescent 7th w/ LSO (Decca).
Reiner was a happy discovery for me, since then I see myself always listening to his 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th (RCA). He recorded the ninth at the end of his career, I'll try to get this recording soon.
Kleiber family (Father & Son) is always remembered but I think that the son's recordings are a bit overrated.
Imo Karajan is not at his best in this repertoire and from his DG cycles I prefer the one from the 60s where we find a good ninth marred by a detached finale.
An interesting task would be to name the best living Beethovenian. Who that would be? Haitink, Chailly, Abbado, Rattle, Vanska, Thielemann, Zinman.......I don't know most of these recordings so I am not qualified to vote but I have to say that I listened to some good Abbado's recordings.
More forgotten ones besides Scherchen, Giulini, Jochum.....? Beecham, Mravinsky & Van Kempen.
Your last comment carries further elements to my conviction that this matter is highly personal and subjective. Several years ago I ran through a large number of conductors in their Beethoven performances. No way that Cluytens, Reiner, Bernstein or even the much-celebrated Szell and many others could convey the same pathos, the same emotions and feelings as these few (Walter, Klemperer and - above all - Furtwängler, but also Toscanini, Karajan and Jochum) did. The former ones always left me with the impression of a fine but superficial reading, unable to unearth all the treasures contained in the score. The same Claudio Abbado, my fellow countryman, despite his alleged continuity with the Furtwängler lesson, leaves me rather cold. All in all, among the contemporaries I would pick Barenboim, but I have to admit to knowing very little of many others. Marriner, Hogwood or Harnoncourt are great conductors, but … in baroque music! Mravinsky offers an unsurpassed Ciaikovsky, but for Beethoven or Brahms I would definitely turn somewhere else.
I don't think anyone has mentioned the superb Blomstedt - Dresden State Orchestra cycle that came out many years ago on RCA LPs with the score to all the symphonies. I picked it up used a long time ago but someone had kept the scores. It is now available on Brilliant CDs.
Though using only a smallish orchestra, I find Harnoncourt's versions, with one exception, most satisfying: the playing is vigorous and full-blooded and unlike most conductors he brings out the humour (where appropriate). Harnoncourt is at the opposite extreme to Karajan. I have never been able to take his streamlined approach with all the accents ironed out. The only disappointment is the 9th where the lack of a large orchestra makes itself felt under Harnoncourt's rather swift and superficial direction. This is made worse by a choir which doesn't sound very involved and second-class soloists.
For the 9th I stand by Solti's first Chicago version.
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