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Beethoven: Der glorreiche Augenblick, Auf die Erhebung Leopold / Voigt, Bass

Release Date: 02/18/1997 
Label:  Koch International Classics Catalog #: 7377   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Deborah VoigtGregory CrossElizabeth Futral
Conductor:  Robert Bass
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestra of St. Luke'sCollegiate Chorale
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

James H. North's harsh assessment of Der glorreiche Augenblick in a review of this recording several issues back (20:6) so distressed and disappointed me (in view of his general sympathy with the lesser-known Beethoven) that I asked Editor Flegler to give the cantata and the recording a second chance by allowing me to put in my own two cents. I come to the work with a set of prejudices that have always inclined me to accept everything that Beethoven wrote with awe and gratitude. Well, not some of the snippets from the early years, perhaps, but everything of substance and sufficient length. Beethoven, in my view, was incapable of writing a dull piece, because his mind and his spirit were the antithesis of dullness. North admires the two Read more cantatas of 1790, composed before Beethoven had reached his 20th year—the Joseph and Leopold Cantatas. I admire them as well. Indeed they are inexplicable works of genius, unlike anything else Beethoven wrote in his apprenticeship years in Bonn. In them Beethoven's greatness stands revealed. Brahms was right when he said that every bar of the Joseph cantata was recognizable as the work of Beethoven and only Beethoven. And yet for years we have had to put up with two wretched recordings of the Joseph cantata (one of which, conducted by Thomas Schippers, North professes to admire inordinately, even though it is sung to a pretentious and totally spurious Latin text and the music is tampered with outrageously. Of the Leopold cantata there were no recordings to be had at all until this one and another recent entry on Hyperion. Both demonstrate what a fabulous piece of writing it is—especially that astounding soprano recitative and aria with obbligatos for oboe and cello, an aria that proves that Beethoven wrote unsingable music for the human voice long years before he began to lose his hearing. Deafness has often been proposed for the inhuman vocal writing in the Ninth Symphony and the Missa Solemnis. But anybody who listens to the Leopold Cantata must concede that Beethoven wrote such cruel passages for the human, and specifically the soprano, voice out of an inner drive to express the inexpressible, to achieve the unachievable. The fact is, however, that singers have been coping with Beethoven's vocal challenges successfully, even brilliantly, right from the first, beginning with Anna Milder, the first Fidelio. It is precisely when a great singer struggles and conquers Beethoven's acute tessitura challenges and instrumental approach to florid passages that epiphanies occur for the listener.

There are many such epiphanies in Der glorreiche Augenblick. That this work of Beethoven's high maturity—written in 1814, when he was re-creating the opera Fidelio as we know it today— should never have found a recording, much less an audience, is simply mind-boggling. The work will conquer you, for it is genuine Beethoven in every bar—big, great-hearted, exultant, and exalting. Forget all that nonsense about the clumsy, amateurish text. Most of you, like me, can't tell a great German text from a bad one, anyway. What's important is that this text contained words and thoughts that set Beethoven's imagination aflame—words like “Europa,“ “Vienna,“ “Freiheit,“ “Völker,“ “Jubel“; phrases like “O Himmel, welch' Entzücken!“, “Vienna! Kronengeschmückte, Götterbeglückte, Herrscherbewirthende Bürgerin!“ I know of no other Beethoven work where he paid tribute to his adopted city. He does so here like a lover greeting his mistress. And there is absolutely no reason to believe that he wrote this cantata merely out of the cynical motive of making a financial killing from the crowned heads of Europe, who had gathered in Vienna for the great Congress that was to change the map of Europe and the course of history (not for the better, perhaps, but Beethoven didn't know that when he wrote this cantata, so filled with bright hope and sanguine expectation).

Thank heaven that it was decided to sing the work to the original text that Beethoven set to music, rather than to some Latin atrocity, or to the sentimental text that Friedrich Rochlitz provided for the second publication of the cantata, 10 years after Beethoven's death. The original at least has the virtue of expressing the excitement that reigned in Vienna as the great Powers arrived in the city to set right the carnage and destruction visited upon Europe by Napoleon. One passage in the soprano's great accompagnato, “O Himmel, welch' Entzücken,“ (followed by her even greater aria with solo violin and chorus, “Heil Vienna! Heil und Glück,“ which I think may be a reworking of an aria with solo violin excised from the original version of Fidelio, directly addresses the Tsar of Russia, the Kings of Sweden, Prussia, and Bavaria, and the Austrian Emperor, Francis I. Curiously absent from this lineup is England, an important presence at the Congress of Vienna and the homeland of the Duke of Wellington, whose victory at the Battle of Victoria Beethoven had already celebrated in a programmatic “symphony“ that can't hold a candle to Der glorreiche Augenblick. France is also not mentioned, which is understandable, since it was France and its strutting little mass murderer that had caused all the trouble in the first place. (Nonetheless, France had sent Talleyrand to Vienna to look after its interests.)

The words of the cantata, by a certain Alois Weissenbach, a surgeon from Salzburg, may not be up to the standards of Goethe and Schiller, but they do evoke that “Glorious Moment“ (the cantata's title) when the world seemed filled with hope and possibilities. There are even veiled Masonic references. Beethoven eagerly seized on these concepts and references to compose some of the most radiantly affirmative music he had written since the Seventh Symphony. Why he did not have the Cantata published is perplexing. Perhaps he eventually felt that the Glorious Moment it celebrated had passed. Or perhaps his contract with the Congress prevented publication. Handsome presentation copies were made and sent out to the powers that ruled Europe, but none of these scores seems to have sparked performances.

This, the world premiere recording of Der glorreiche Augenblick strikes me as a strong and persuasive advocacy of the work. As North pointed out, both sopranos accomplish their difficult assignments with honors. Deborah Voigt sounds here like the reincarnation of Eileen Farrell—the same steady, plangent column of noble dramatic soprano eloquence. Elizabeth Futral's more slender, lyric resources form a nice comparison and contrast, though Futrál is no shrinking violet; the voice has heft as well as beauty, and her big aria in the Leopold cantata is carried out with dazzling and fearless virtuosity. Jan Opalach regains my esteem in both these cantatas after turning in some rather uninvolved work in several Handel operas; he is a solidly centered bass-baritone, equally at home in the top and bottom of his registers. Gregory Cross sings the tenor solos manfully and forthrightly and maintains a strong presence in the ensembles. I do not have North's reservations about the sound, which to my ears captures all the sonic virtues of Carnegie Hall with none of its defects. The balancing of such large performing forces is impressive; clarity and precision are maintained even in the loudest passages.

The original texts are printed in the booklet along with accurate but somewhat stilted translations by Robert W. Gutman. The surgeon from Salzburg is not always as turgid as Gutman makes him out to be.

Der glorreiche Augenblick is the last holdout in the Beethoven canon. There will be no further major works by the Master to discover. I am sad about that but exultant too, at this opportunity for a final glimpse into his great and turbulent soul.

-- David Johnson, FANFARE [11/1997] Read less

Works on This Recording

Der glorreiche Augenblick, Op. 136 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Deborah Voigt (Soprano), Gregory Cross (Tenor), Elizabeth Futral (Soprano)
Conductor:  Robert Bass
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestra of St. Luke's,  Collegiate Chorale
Period: Classical 
Written: 1814; Vienna, Austria 
Venue:  Live  Carnegie Hall, New York City 
Cantata on the Accession of Emperor Leopold II, WoO 88 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Elizabeth Futral (Soprano), Gregory Cross (Tenor), Deborah Voigt (Soprano)
Conductor:  Robert Bass
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestra of St. Luke's,  Collegiate Chorale
Period: Classical 
Written: 1790; Bonn, Germany 
Venue:  Live  Carnegie Hall, New York City 

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