The sight of Mars as Napoleon and Terpsichore as a caricature of Ninette de Valois raised quite a few laughs among German audiences when Sir Frederick Ashton's ballet for Beethoven's Die Geschopfe des Prometheus was premiered in Bonn during the city's bicentenary celebrations in 1970. It didn't go down quite so well in London and, so far as I know, has never been seen since. Doubtless the ballet can be caught now and again in Germany: in England, where even a concert performance of Beethoven's complete score is rare indeed, this new recording is more than welcome.
Beethoven wrote the suite for Vienna where it was first performed in 1801 between the composition of his first and second symphonies. Its tableaux vivants, nowRead more recalling Haydn, now Mozart, now Gluck, are nevertheless quintessential Beethoven: you reach the end feeling you've been shown a sequence of fleeting, shadowy images of his past, present and future.
The Geschopfe, the creatures, are, of course, the humans who have yet to be made fully human through their encounters with Apollo and the Muses: Beethoven's music incarnates that transformation. The Promethean fire is stolen in a marvellous supple sequence in the bass strings and with a rumble of nicely dry timpani: the Prometheus theme we know and love is reserved for the grand finale.
In between come a dozen or so episodes of contrast and changing delight. There is the presentation to Apollo in which Beethoven uncharacteristically accompanies a magic flute worthy of Papageno with tingling harp arpeggios, and then goes on to provide a frisson of foresight to the harmonic expectancy of the Ninth Symphony and to Fidelio's glowing light. Then there are the five Muses themselves: comic, serious, martial, tragic and pastoral. Polonius would have loved it. The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra re-create graphically the strange stirrings of tragedy in a most eloquent oboe and horn recitative, while their wind band provide a mischievous frame for episodes of peasent merry-making in miniature.
Then follow solos for Bacchus, the original choreographer, Vigano, and the leading lady, who is treated to a rare and luscious solo from Mozart's beloved basset-horn. This New York orchestra, who play without a conductor, listen imaginatively and astutely to each other: this performance, brightly and clearly recorded, makes me look forward to their visit to London in the summer.
Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43by Ludwig van Beethoven Orchestra/Ensemble:
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Period: Classical Written: 1800-1801; Vienna, Austria Date of Recording: 03/1986 Venue: Performing Arts Center, SUNY, Purchase Length: 66 Minutes 12 Secs.
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
BEAUTIFUL RECORDING!April 15, 2015By Zita Carno (Tampa, FL)See All My Reviews"Most of the time we keep hearing the overture to this magnificent ballet---so it's about time we got to hear the complete score! And nobody does it better than this terrific ensemble---I call it a sizeable chamber orchestra that works without a conductor and does it superbly. and now I have it in my library so I can enjoy it. Thanks for making it available."Report Abuse
Blind Taste Test WinnerFebruary 10, 2012By Paul R. (Hollywood, FL)See All My Reviews"When I tunned into the Classical station, Beethoven's "Creatures of Prometheus" was in progress, so I didn't hear who was playing, making this a good blind taste test. As I drove along, I realized that this was the best perfromance I'd heard of Beethoven's only ballet. The tuttis were dramatic and full, the phrasing interesting and unforced, allowing the basic drama to come out in a natural way. The playing was excellent in all departments. This was a great orchestra, perhaps the Cleveland, I thought. I wondered what performance this was, but I had to turn off the radio. That was yesterday. Today, I logged on to the station's schedule and found out the winner was The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra on DG. Highly Recommended."Report Abuse