Notes and Editorial Reviews
Bruckner seems to be a hot composer these days, judging from the volume of releases pouring in from all sides, and those are the performances in this set likely to get the most attention from collectors. Who needs another Beethoven cycle, and one with a French orchestra at that? However, EMI has already released the Eighth and Ninth Symphonies separately; only the Third is being newly reissued here. The excellence of these swift, intelligent, and always musical recordings is well known, so if you haven’t heard them then by all means you should consider this box, whose true value actually lies, believe it or not, in the reissue of Schuricht’s remarkable Beethoven cycle with the Paris Conservatory Orchestra.
It’s no disservice to Schuricht to suggest that the orchestra is more important in terms of the Beethoven discography than is the conductor. François Habeneck founded this orchestra in 1828 specifically to introduce the symphonies of Beethoven to the Parisian public. I’m not sure how many of those original players were still active when these recordings were made in the 1950s (Habeneck died in 1849), but because the ensemble had as its basis the professors and students of the singularly hermetic Paris Conservatory, it maintained an unbroken performance tradition until it was absorbed into the Orchestre de Paris in 1967, at which time its unique timbral qualities vanished forever.
I have always felt that this orchestra’s sonority–the lean but gutsy strings, nimble woodwinds, and piercing brass with plenty of trumpet vibrato–comes closer to a true Beethoven sound then any Viennese or period instrument group. You can hear these qualities plainly in evidence at the opening of the Finale of the Fifth Symphony (sound clip attached). Just listen to how “decompacted” the textures are, and this is where Schuricht’s genius as a conductor comes into play. His concerns for precise rhythm, ensemble clarity, and for bringing out important details such as (in this example) Beethoven’s bass lines, go right to the orchestra’s strengths, while serving Beethoven equally well. Other versions may sound more majestic, more conventionally noble, but has anyone ever captured the music’s parade-ground, rabble rousing, revolutionary qualities as do Schuricht and his players here? And let’s not deny Schuricht the credit he deserves for getting these traditionally touchy musicians to give Beethoven a 100% collective effort.
So there’s no need to discuss the individual performances in detail. They are all of a piece, consistently idiomatic from the First Symphony through the Ninth, and above all characterful in a way that you simply don’t hear these days. The mono sonics are as vivid and clear as the interpretations themselves. This set, then, remains a landmark in the history of Beethoven interpretation, and the best-sounding link in a chain that, more than any other performance tradition in any other country, takes us back to the time of the composer himself.
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com