Notes and Editorial Reviews
Herbert Blomstedt, cond; Edda Moser (
); Helen Donath (
); Richard Cassily (
); Eberhard Büchner (
); Theo Adam (
); Hermann Christian Polster (
); Karl Ridderbusch
); Leipzig R Ch; Staatskapelle Dresden
BRILLIANT 94868 (2 CDs 155:39)
isn’t just an opera that took Beethoven nine years and three tries to turn into a masterpiece. It is a manifesto for the freedom of mankind—the greatest in classical music—and that’s what the composer was striving for. Every generation, including his own, has viewed him as a titan. Kenneth Clark, in his famous BBC series
, lifted Beethoven as high as Michelangelo. This underlines why the original 1805 version of the opera, titled
, contains nothing that wasn’t improved in the final 1814 version, not because Beethoven was a lesser composer then but because his aspirations were still unrealized. He had to pull a slender willow out of the ground so that an oak might grow.
Here we have a budget reissue of the 1976 recording that has held pride of place since it first appeared (the original CD release on Berlin Classics is still available). Herbert Blomstedt grasps the heroic cast of
, imperfect as it is, and his principals, especially Edda Moser in the title role and Richard Cassily as Florestan, sing on the same scale as they would in
. So does the rest of the splendid cast, and the fine recorded sound allows us to luxuriate in the Staatskapelle Dresden.
I prefer this account over the only other recording of stature to emerge in the intervening decades, under John Eliot Gardiner (DG), where Beethoven’s strong colors are reduced to pastels and drama gets washed out in prettiness. There are admirers of Gardiner’s period approach, which baffles me. In “Gott! welch’ Dunkel heir” Gardiner’s Florestan doesn’t cry out against the blackness of his dungeon; he’s asking the waiter for a flashlight to read the menu.
As for the musical differences between 1805 and 1814, anyone familiar with
will recognize all the standard numbers, some basically untouched, others modified a little or a lot (Leonore’s “Abscheulicher!” recitative had yet to be written, and also the thrilling cabaletta-like conclusion to Florestan’s aria). The music that Beethoven deleted when
was transformed into
mostly focused on the Rocco, Jaquino, and Marzelline subplot. One listens expectantly for anything that rises to the level of the
Overture No. 2, but in vain. Vocal fanciers may be intrigued by the
flourishes at the end of Leonore’s aria. This only underscores, however, the unique music drama Beethoven eventually hammered out.
If you want a minutely detailed description of how the two operas differ, Gardiner provides one in the program booklet to his recording. But be aware that his performing edition contains some cut-and-paste of his own devising, and instead of giving us the spoken dialogue, a narrator substitutes a running commentary (imagine doing
The Magic Flute
this way and you’ll understand what’s lost).
After nearly 40 years, Blomstedt still provides a satisfying listen. There’s more Beethoven in the original three-act version of the opera, but a cook who stretches the soup isn’t considered a great chef.
, which is why we rarely hear it.
FANFARE: Huntley Dent
Works on This Recording
Leonore, Op. 72 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Helen Donath (Soprano),
Edda Moser (Soprano),
Siegfried Lorenz (Baritone),
Gunter Emmerlich (Spoken Vocals),
Reiner Goldberg (Tenor),
Hermann-Christian Polster (Bass),
Karl Ridderbusch (Bass),
Richard Cassilly (Tenor),
Theo Adam (Bass),
Eberhard Büchner (Tenor)
Leipzig Radio Chorus,
Written: 1805; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 1976
Venue: Lukas Church, Dresden, Germany
Length: 155 Minutes 39 Secs.
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