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Beethoven: Complete Symphonies / Chailly, Leipzig Gewandhausorchester


Release Date: 11/21/2011 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 001609802   
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Katerina BeranovaLilli PaasikiviRobert Dean SmithHanno Müller-Brachmann
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Number of Discs: 5 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews


A set like this reveals tellingly the beneficial side of the period-performance movement. There are things that Riccardo Chailly does that likely never would have occurred to him, especially with this orchestra, absent current research into early 19th-century sonority and practice, particularly regarding tempo. I'm thinking of the scherzo of the Fifth, quicker than usual and wholly convincing, or the slow movements of the Sixth and Ninth symphonies, which flow with expressive purpose but never sound rushed (unlike many actual period-instrument versions). The Allegretto of the Seventh also really lives up to its designation, but then, so did Szell's.

On the other hand, there are some
Read more "traditional" touches that also make a lot of sense, most obviously, for example, Chailly's excellent decision to let the trumpet play the entire main theme in the coda of the Eroica's first movement (but he leaves the bassoons alone, as written, in the Fifth's first-movement recapitulation). In other words, Chailly, like Vänskä, takes what he needs from modern scholarship and assembles a distinctive interpretive take on this music. The result is brilliant, personal, and consistently convincing.

The one huge advantage that Chailly enjoys over any period-instrument performance, however, is the playing of Leipzig's Gewandhaus Orchestra. Obviously, these folks know their Beethoven, but more to the point, it's ludicrous in the face of playing of this quality to suggest that any period-performance group, using modern copies of old instruments, can approach the ensemble quality on display here. Consider the bite and weight of the strings at the start of the Coriolan Overture, or in the trio of the Fifth's scherzo. You also won't find any band of "authentic" instruments with woodwinds whose parts tell with such clarity or personality. Check out the numerous solos in the "Pastoral", or the squealing piccolo atop the tuttis in the finale of the Fifth. The sheer excitement that Chailly generates in the virtuosic finale of the Eighth, or the coda of the same movement in the "Eroica", has to be heard to be believed. Really, there's no comparison.

More to the point, this telling admixture of traditional and novel gives Beethoven's music a range of expression and bigness of vision that period-performance purists can't hope to match. The Ninth really is the cosmic experience that it ought to be, aided by a fine lineup of soloists and a magnificent, large chorus. Is it all equally fine? Well, everyone will have their own preferences. I'd prefer a slower tempo for the tenor solo march in the Ninth's finale, and there are one or two other moments that might raise an eyebrow, but in the face of such general excellence they really don't matter. This is great Beethoven. Finally, a consumer note. Universal was not providing promotional copies of this set to critics (at least, not to those they consider less important) because of the alleged cost of the packaging. So I purchased my set at full price. What you get is a slipcase with five CDs bound into a hard-backed booklet. It's a nice design. The sound is excellent.

– David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1.
Symphony no 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Katerina Beranova (Soprano), Lilli Paasikivi (Mezzo Soprano), Robert Dean Smith (Tenor),
Hanno Müller-Brachmann (Bass Baritone)
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1822-1824; Vienna, Austria 
2.
Symphony no 8 in F major, Op. 93 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1812; Vienna, Austria 
3.
Symphony no 7 in A major, Op. 92 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1811-1812; Vienna, Austria 
4.
Symphony no 6 in F major, Op. 68 "Pastoral" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1808; Vienna, Austria 
5.
Symphony no 5 in C minor, Op. 67 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1807-1808; Vienna, Austria 
6.
Symphony no 4 in B flat major, Op. 60 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria 
7.
Symphony no 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 "Eroica" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1803; Vienna, Austria 
8.
Symphony no 2 in D major, Op. 36 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1801-1802; Vienna, Austria 
9.
Symphony no 1 in C major, Op. 21 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria 
10.
Zur Namensfeier Overture, Op. 115 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1814-1815; Vienna, Austria 
11.
Ruins of Athens, Op. 113: Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1811; Vienna, Austria 
12.
Leonore Overture no 3 in C major, Op. 72a by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1805-1806; Vienna, Austria 
13.
King Stephan, Op. 117: Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1811; Vienna, Austria 
14.
Fidelio, Op. 72: Overture in E major by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1814; Vienna, Austria 
15.
Egmont, Op. 84: Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1810; Vienna, Austria 
16.
Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43: Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800-1801; Vienna, Austria 
17.
Coriolan Overture in C minor, Op. 62 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1807; Vienna, Austria 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  3 Customer Reviews )
 Perhaps Beethoven himself conducting February 1, 2013 By J. Wallace-Smith (Charlottesville, VA) See All My Reviews "Unconventional, refreshing and brilliant music making with great recording." Report Abuse
 Not your grandfather's Beethoven cycle January 1, 2012 By D. Mount (Chestnut Hill, MA) See All My Reviews "This is superb. Disclosure, I'm praying that Chailly is recruited to lead the BSO, recent health issues aside. Riccardo, the world's best cardiologists are here in Boston.... Wonderful recording, virtuoso playing, and spot-on interpretations. There are of course endless potential comparisons: authentic, traditional, "classic", SACD, Nazi-associated (Karajan, Boehm, Furtwangler), and the hopelessly confused (Simon Rattle...). Tempi are supposedly "authentic" and are dramatically faster than traditional - sample the slow movement of #4 and the finale of #8. If you like your comfort food meatloaf with ketchup, like your Mom made, this is organic, locavore gourmet with truffles. But it's blatantly irrelevant whether you "like" individual movements, tempi, phrasing, or whatever. What's important is that this is a vital, lyrical, and questioning conductor, leading a symphony orchestra with a pretty unique pedigree in Beethoven intrepetation. With stunning sound. For me, Chailly's Schumann Symphonies with this orchestra recently crowded out the Zinman, Szell, Sawalisch, Gardiner, and Haitink versions in my iTunes, as I trimmed the folder to 150 gb..... And his Bruckner, Stravinsky, Varese, and Mahler recordings are still there in my iTunes. 'Nuff said. If you're an addicted collector you've already bought this. To compare to the Zinman, Barenboim, Gardiner, and Vanska cycles etc., of course. Along with the Nazis and Carlos Kleiber. If you're a newbie, buy this; this is as good as it gets. Much as it pains me to say this, it's better than the Vanska cycle, by a 2-century margin." Report Abuse
 Worth Hearing At Least Once, But A Keeper? December 21, 2011 By Mark Stenroos (Aliso Viejo, CA) See All My Reviews "Let's start with what I find positive about this set. First, the orchestra plays incredibly well. Second, the recorded sound is superb. If every Beethoven cycle out there were afforded such an open, clean sound as this we might be better able to evaluate interpretive differences. You could take dictation from these recordings. Third, the interpretations are a not atypical combination of what we might think of as traditional and modern approaches to these scores. On the face of it, these recordings would look to be a welcome addition to any serious or not-so-serious classical collection. Yet to my way of listening, the set has major flaws. To start with, I'm not won over by the fleet tempi Chailly adopts throughout this set. Not because the orchestra can't articulate the notes, but because I feel that they can't always maintain the weight of tone they have established. This tendency is most pronounced in Symphonies 1 & 2. It's a salient consideration, and one that most conductors will make if their interpretation relies on weight of tone making their interpretive points (Böhm, Karajan & Bernstein spring to mind in this regard), especially in scoring points in establishing and underlining the forward harmonic motion. I dare say that were you to compare Chailly to Karajan, Bernstein or even most of the HIP versions that Chailly's tempi for every single movement of every single symphony in the cycle is faster than both the norm and even the faster-than-the-norm. Taking every repeat in every movement of every symphony hardly compensates for the music being played at a tempo that works against it the first time through. The Eroica is fast and lightweight to a fault. The off-beat stresses in the first movement register for nothing. How can they when there's NO TIME allowed for the first beat of the bar to register, let alone the off beat accents that follow? The entire symphony is dispatched at a speed that seems to undermine the fact that it was the longest symphony ever written at the time of its premiere. It was also ground breaking - one of the most complex pieces of music written in matters of rhythm, harmony and the use of the orchestra. Yet, Chailly has somehow found a way to make THE most-consequential symphony ever written seem inconsequential! This music needs TIME to sink in, to register, to SOUND, and that it cannot do at Chailly's speeds. The Fourth is OK in an average kind of way, though Chailly's allowing the brass to dominate the textures on each of their appearances presents the 4th as a precursor to the 5th, which to my way of thinking does not take the 4th on its own terms. The finale is just a hair too fast, and while the bassoonist is well able to handle the exposed solo lick in the movement, the later, shorter bassoon solo is buried by the strings and is almost inaudible. BTW - that exposed solo sounds as if it's from a different acoustic. I wouldn't be surprised if it was spliced in later from a different take, maybe even a take made by the bassoonist during a solo session. Symphonies 5 - 8 find Chailly at his best. The 8th is very lively, possibly one of the best out there. The 5th is a bit one-dimensional at Chailly's speeds. Energetic, to be sure. Triumphant? No. The 6th may well be the best recording in the set and is a viable alternative to what's already in the catalog, but even it has a breathless quality that wears thin before reaching its conclusion. The 7th? Well, it very much reminded me of Solti/Chicago in the first movement, what with the strings fairly galumphing along. The famous second movement is objective to a fault. The third movement is simply too fast to allow the off-beat stresses to register, and Chailly doesn't help by playing the off beat measures in a rushed manner that negates any feeling of the meter shifting. It's as straight as an arrow. The finale is played well enough, though again, the fast tempo makes for a bit of a one-dimensional performance. I just never felt the finale was building to its ending. Even the half-step rumblings in the low strings that drove people of Beethoven's time nuts are under-characterized here. The 9th leads me to echo what I said about the Eroica - I have to say that I've never heard the 9th presented as such an inconsequential piece of music as it is here. The first movement starts off well enough, but over the course of the movement it seems to become a smaller and smaller compositional conception in Chailly's hands. Oh, there's the occasional thwack from the timpani and some very strong and well-balanced brass interjections along the way, but these appear as if out of the blue. There's none of Bernstein's weight and gravitas here. No feeling of the inevitable and - more importantly - the inexorable that one gets from Furtwängler or Karajan. In Chailly's hands, the opening movement of the 9th rather traipses along by comparison. The Scherzo is extremely driven and simply too fast to my ears. Chailly's interpretation of the ff/f markings in the final 3 bars ends with a subito piano on the final note of the movement. It sounds contrived to me - Chailly channeling his inner Mengelberg. Yes, yes, we all know that there's no dynamic marked on that final note (I think it's just an editor's error), but I can't for the life of me believe that Beethoven desired a weak ending to this movement. I've never heard this approach before. The overall dynamics marked are ff and f, and Chailly makes no attempt to play the second and fourth beats of those bars - ie: the beats without any dynamic indication - subito piano, so why play the very last note of the movement that way, especially when it occurs on beat one of the final bar, which is the strongest beat in the bar? To me, it's just a gesture - look what we can do! Turn on a dime and make you take notice. And it's a bad gesture at that. Beethoven has just spent the better part of a half-hour-plus presenting highly agitated and loud music, even taking the unprecedented step of switching the position of the Scherzo from its typical third movement position to the second movement to open the symphony with the utmost gravitas. In any other performance, the third movement makes its appearance as a total change of pace. A hymn of beauty that bridges the emotional world of the two opening movements while setting up the triumph of the choral finale. By playing that final note of the Scherzo piano, Chailly telegraphs the calm that is to come in the Andante cantabile, giving away the rabbit in the hat that Beethoven has so meticulously prepared for the listener. One imagines that were Chailly to move over to stage direction he would have Mimi die at the end of the third act of La boheme, so inept are his choices in presenting the obvious and inherent DRAMA that Beethoven has writ large. The third movement - which to me is the crowning achievement of this piece - is again too fast and basically a throwaway. Throughout it all the orchestra plays magnificently, but to what end? The finale has been bettered by so many other versions that it's simply not even in the running. No drama or mystery to the "quasi un recitativo" basses & celli at the beginning. The solo quartet is no better than average. The choir sounds like a largish group (which is fine by me) but the sopranos tend to flat every passing high note. The tenor solo is too fast by a multiple of two and sounds, well, trite. It had me longing to pull out Norrington's admittedly way too slow version to counter Chailly's speed, but I couldn't as I dumped it off years ago. Yes, Beethoven marks the section "Allegro assai vivace", but he also marks it "Alla marcia," and I can't imagine anybody marching at the tempo Chailly picks here. The ensuing fugue is a little messy but thoroughly exciting. There's some very finely balanced and strong playing from the brass throughout the movement - really burnished tone that's worth hearing for its sake alone. This 9th just doesn't connect with me. I'm sure many will find it exciting and dynamic. I don't. There are nice moments and interesting touches along the way, but the overall conception to me just doesn't work. That said, I'll most likely give it another listen in a few days or so, just to see if the problem lies with me and my 40 years of listening to everyone else in this piece. Perhaps the worst thing I can say about this set overall is that there are no surprises left by the time you've made your way through it. The fast tempi and the aggressive brass playing that seemed so bracing in the first couple of symphonies one hears (whichever ones they happen to be) becomes something of an expected gesture by the end of the set. I found myself hoping that Chailly would surprise me by taking a slower tempo for the opening of the Eroica, or a more dancing attitude in the 7th. But alas, it was not to be. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, and - apparently - what happens in Chailly's Beethoven 1 is also going to happen in Symphonies 2 through 9. The set is full of highly individualistic interpretive gestures that may or may not sit well on repeat hearings and over the ensuing years. I say that in large part because of what I perceive as being the perspective of why those gestures were made by Chailly. I'm not saying that Chailly's interpretive gestures are more willful than those of others, but I do get that he's very a much an in-the-moment performer who doesn't necessarily see himself as setting down his "definitive" or "for the ages" Beethoven cycle. In the past, recording teams would advise musicians to round off their more-extreme interpretive choices when recording, the idea being that such choices don't wear well on repeated hearings. That doesn't seem to be a consideration in this set, which elevates interpretive gestures above all. Still, even with the above caveats, I think this set is worth a listen. Maybe it's not worth a purchase. I was all set to purchase another copy of this set as a Xmas present for a friend who is a newbie to classical music, based on having heard Syms 1, 2, 5 & 6. But by the time I got through the 9th, I had decided against it. It's just too one-dimensional to give to a newbie to Beethoven. I'm sure this set will find many fans and will sell pretty well (it's certainly being talked about in the classical music newsgroups), but it just isn't my cup of tea. Speed in and of itself is not a self-recommending aspect in Beethoven, and in the case of this particular set, I feel that the speed is excessive and makes almost impossible the nuanced approach to Beethoven that we have come to expect from major orchestras, conductors and record labels. Like the John Eliot Gardner set on DG Archiv, this set may ultimately rank as Beethoven for those who like their Beethoven, well, over with - and quickly. Three stars." Report Abuse
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