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Beethoven Symphonies 1-9, Overtures (8Cd)
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Audio CD, 1 May 2020
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- Product Dimensions : 13.11 x 13.21 x 3 cm; 252.02 Grams
- Manufacturer : DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON
- Manufacturer reference : 2020-03-27
- Original Release Date : 2020
- Label : DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON
- ASIN : B082PQH2FL
- Number of discs : 8
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Recorded between 1951-1954, this mono cycle is a prize tip to celebrate the Beethoven year. Nothing in this reissued set sounds like 1950s -Hermann Scherchen's approach to Beethoven is captivating, almost contemporary. As his producer, Kurt List, pointed out: "With Scherchen the result is never boring, nor does it leave you indifferent." Scherchen's interpretation is still breathtaking, demonstrating his personal principle: Music does not have to be understood. It has to be listened to.
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The mono cycle of the 9 symphonies from the early ‘50s is largely of Viennese origin, but the stupefying 5th and 8th were recorded while he was in London, with none other than Beecham’s Royal Philharmonic. In recorded works, Scherchen was determined to bring out every last detail, since he worked so hard on it, and became known for his insistence on ‘everything audible’. This meant the very careful and unconventional positioning of instruments around the single microphone.
These recordings have appeared in various issues, the earliest being taken from LPs, but this DG set from master tapes has dug out the best sound so far. They are good for their age, and in the mono recordings the lone microphone has captured a wealth of detail - although inevitably not as much as was possible in later years.
The ear very quickly adjusts to the limitations of the old analogue sound. And then you see what the fuss is about. What exceptional readings these are! You won’t feel comfortable with them if you are looking for polite, neat and tidy renditions. Scherchen often makes much of the strong military undertones in Beethoven which seem evident in his 4,5 and 7 when not so apparent in many other conductors. 6 is, shall we say, unsentimental - where so many others, on the other hand, are glib. He strives to deliver the composer’s tempo markings, having said once that to do so is the only way to hear the music flow as it should. 5 is an absolutely belting performance, the finale almost frightening in its attack. 8 is well known as a reading that betters even Toscanini for tension and urgency. It emerges here as never before, a giant of the gramophone. The finale still sends shivers down the spine.
I can take or leave his ninth, which shows its age stylistically, but the others are superb. He has a tremendous sense of line and detail, a feel for rhythm and an unremitting grip on his players. 5 and 8 are worth the price of the set.
One downside: with the exception of 5 and 8, comparatively short works in which he takes the exposition repeat, there are hardly any other repeats taken anywhere else. This was not unusual in its day, but with playing of this calibre you cry out for them - as opposed to so many where you wish they hadn’t bothered.
Also in the box is a stunning set of overtures, a rehearsal session, his 1958 Eroica in stereo, (with exposition repeat) and a stereo 6. The Eroica (quicker) is particularly fine, even if my vote still probably goes to the mono.
This set is for the aficionado I guess, and for those who have no scruples about rather elderly sound. I prefer it to a great many modern readings and would always say that performance comes first. Indispensable.