Beethoven Edition, Vol. 3 - Orchestral & Stage Works
Beethoven writing occasional pieces and ballet or incidental music is the composer on automatic pilot or, to put it another way, we hear the shell of his style without its inspirational drive. It is evident from pretty well all the works assembled here that he was willing enough to turn out music by the yard to earn his crust without too much concern for the quality of the results. Nobody would guess from most of these compositions that he was such an original being, such a seminal force in music. Certainly he cannot have thought that these basically ephemeral works might be revived by an inquisitive generation 200 years later – but here they all are. It would take ten times the space I am allowed to deal with them in any detail. As much has been issued here in the not-too-distant past, I shall concentrate on the items either new to the UK or completely new.
The Ritterballett doesn’t seem to have appeared here before – charming, short pieces written by the 20-year-old composer and with no less a conductor than Karajan giving the little dances the benefit of his most delicate attention on a 1969 recording. Most of the rest of the ballet music and dances previously issued are in the safe hands of Marriner and the ASMF and of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, which gives a well-tailored account (1986) of the Prometheus ballet music on the first disc to launch the whole project.
The important new performances are all contained on the final disc, beginning with the music to Konig Stefan composed for Kotzebue’s festival play of that name. I say music but a substantial part of the writing is either speech or melodrama. Fischer-Dieskau, no less, portrays in speech the eponymous Christian hero. Not even his intelligent declamation can revitalize the portentous text, but the touching moment when the king receives his bride (track 6) draws forth from Beethoven music worthy of his finest; the rest is paltry stuff. Chung and his Roman chorus and orchestra do their best to bring the occasion back to life. The pieces written to Trietschke’s Germania to celebrate the Allies entering Paris in 1814 find Beethoven on his most extrovert form. Gerald Finley, Andrew Davis and the BBC Singers are suitable interpreters.
However, they are better employed in by far the most interesting disinterment here, the single number the composer completed for a proposed opera to Schikaneder’s libretto Vestas Feuer (1803). This is a trio for thwarted lovers and angry father, who finally relents and agrees to his daughter’s betrothal, the ten-minute number ending with a pre-echo of “O namenlose Freude”. This is really worth hearing, and is well performed by Susan Gritton, David Kuebler and Finley under Davis’s alert direction.
John Warrack was hardly more enthusiastic than I am about Beethoven’s incidental music when reviewing DG’s Abbado CD, with McNair and Terfel, of incidental music in June last year, but thorough professional that the composer was, he fulfilled his commissions even if today, as JW suggested, these may be of interest only to the loyal and devoted. That is true of this whole issue, which shows the consistency of PolyGram’s recording techniques over the years. The booklet-notes are excellent.'