Recorded live on September 3, 1981 at the Royal Albert Hall, London
ONE-SENTENCE REVIEW (BEETHOVEN):
OK – so unlike my last review of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony (which was awful), this one is a terrific live recording from 1972 – conducted by Sir Adrian Boult – and that’s pretty much all you need to know.
ONE-SENTENCE REVIEW (BRAHMS):
Though the Brahms Symphony No. 2is not a personal favorite (I’m afraid if I would have been present during the performance you might have heard me yawn on the recording), but this is still a great live performance of (in my opinion) a boring symphony and a must listen for any fan of Brahms.
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES:
No liner notes – it’s just another one of those cheap discs (cheaply made – not cheap performances by any means) that came with my paid subscription to BBC Music Magazine in the early 1990s. That magazine is long gone and it was sad when it went away. I used to love to get those surprise discs every month in the mail. Ah, well…
1-5: Beethoven – Symphony No. 6 in F, Opus 68 (Pastoral)
6-9: Brahms: Symphony No. 2 in D, Opus 73
Note: These bottom videos are meant to be a really good live recording that I can share and not just the sound recordings of the CDs being reviewed (those are meant to be the links at the top).
Very competent, solid recording. It’s Beethoven as Beethoven should be played and Brahms as Brahms should be played – nothing wrong with that.
So – this is another one of those ridiculous 1990s CD-ROM discs where you could, supposedly, follow along with the score while it played in your computer – but mostly it just jammed and the performances of these discs were always pretty terrible.
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES:
No liner notes but lots of instructions on how to get it to work in your computer. All very complicated and it never really worked. I tried a few of these discs and they were always pretty frustrating but I still bought them because the concept of being able to follow along with the score while a piece of music played was very new and very exciting.
I just wished it would have worked.
1: CD+ROM Data Track
2: Mvt. I: Allegro ma non troppo
3: Mvt II: Andante molto mosso
4: Mvt III: Allegro; Mvt. IV Allegro; Mvt V: Allegretto
But I give you a really good performance below:
It was a novelty and would have been really cool had it worked and had the performances chosen actually been decent. But, alas, these were pretty terrible discs from the Laserlight division of Delta Music Inc. (whatever that is).
New York Philharmonic (Leonard Bernstein, conductor)
Back from vacation – oh, yeah – and starting with one powerhouse symphony that everyone in the world can hum and one forgotten symphony that gets no respect – and, in fact, is actually hated (which is which – do you think?)… regardless, this is a classic recording not to be missed.
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES (written by Michael Danner):
Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Opus 60
This symphony lies like some sunlit valley between the cragged “Eroica”and the mountainous Fifth Symphony. Beethoven composed this work in 1806 during the summer months, it is generally believed, that he spent with his friends the von Brunswicks at their estate in Hungary.
Some musicologists – notably, Sir. George Grove – hold that the Fourth Symphony is an expression of the composer’s feelings for Countess Therese von Brunswick, to whom he was reputed to have become engaged.
“When writing the symphony,” said Sir George, “his heart must have been swelling with his new happiness. It is, in fact, the paean which he sings over his first conquest.
But the Fourth Symphonywas not well received at its first performance, in Vienna, during the winter of 1807. One critic, admitting “wealth of ideas, bold originality and fullness of strength,” still complained of “neglect of noble simplicity” and “excessive amassing of thoughts.”
Carl Maria von Weber, then an aspiring twenty-year old musician, write a derisive article in which he had a violin claim, after a performance of the work, that it had been forced “to caper about like a wild goat” so that it could “execute the no-ideas of Mr. Composer.”
A more illuminating and sympathetic interpretation of the Symphonyis left to us by Sir George Grove, who write that “a more consistent and attractive whole cannot be… The movements fit in their places like the limbs and features of a lovely statue; and, full of fire and invention as they are, all is subordinated to conciseness, grace and beauty.”
Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Opus 67
In Berlioz’s opinion, the Symphony No. 5 was the first of Beethoven’s symphonies in which the composer “gave the reins of his vast imagination, without taking for guide or aid a foreign thought.”
It seems to come, wrote Berlioz, “directly and solely from the genius of Beethoven; he develops in it his own intimate thought, his secret sorrows, his concentrated rage, his reveries charged with a dejection, oh, so sad, his visions at night, his bursts of enthusiasm.”
The date of the Fifthhas not been definitely determined. The Symphonywas begun in 1805, shortly after the completion of the “Eroica,”but it was laid aside almost at once, and Beethoven presumably did not resume work on it until 1807.
It is supposed that he completed it in that year, though it remained unplayed for another twelve months. The first performance took place in Vienna, at the Theater an der Wien, on December 22, 1808.
Concerts were concerts in those days, and the audience that heard the premiere of the Fifthalso heard the Sixth Symphony and the Choral Fantasy, the Piano Concerto in G, two numbers from the Mass in C, the aria “Ah, Perfido”and an improvisation by the the composer.
Apparently the performances were deplorable, and perhaps for this reason the new works on the program were indifferently received. But the subsequent history of the Fifthwas one of repeated triumphs.
The first movementof this great work is possessed of a wild and demonic energy – “a frenetic delirium that explodes in frightful cries,” as Berlioz expressed it.
The second movement is a noble and melancholy contemplation; in form, variations on two themes.
The scherzoestablished a mood of mystery and terror that remind Berlioz of a sinister scene in Goethe’sFaust.
Suddenly, at the close of this movement, comes one of the greatest strokes in Beethoven, the mysterious bridge passage leading into the exultant shout that begins the finale, a glorious ascent from the darker recesses of the soul to the light of courageous, challenging life.
Note: Mr. Bernstein’s is a complete performance of the Fifth Symphony, with all repeats observed, exactly as Beethoven indicated.
1-4: Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Opus 60
5-8: Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Opus 67
Because Symphony No. 4 isn’t famous and we haven’t heard it a thousand times, it comes off as a little flat and boring while the Symphony No. 5, of course, does not disappoint, especially under Mr. Bernstein’s fiery baton! Classic. Classic. Classic.
Now this is a double-pack to be appreciated – live performances, BBC Philharmonic – unbelievable music.
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES (written by Richard Wigmore):
BEETHOVEN SYMPHONY NO. 3 IN E-FLAT MAJOR, OPUS 55 – ‘EROICA’
As Joseph Kerman has observed, the ‘Eroica’ marks a turning point in the history of modern music.
In it the dimensions and reach of the Classical symphony are startlingly expanded.
The music’s gargantuan energy and unprecedented expressive range are contained within a mighty architectural span whose proportions Beethoven was not to exceed until the Ninth Symphony.
He worked on the symphony during 1803, the year after the crisis engendered by his encroaching deafness, movingly expressed in the Heiligenstadt Testament.
The work was dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte. But Beethoven furiously tore out the dedication on hearing that the First Consul had proclaimed himself Emperor.
The hero became anonymous; and on the symphony’s publication in 1806 the title page ran: ‘Sinfonia Eroica: composed to celebrate the memory of a great man.’
SCHUBERT SYMPHONY NO. 8 IN B MINOR – ‘UNFINISHED’
The circumstances surrounding Schubert’sB minor Symphony have provoked reams of speculation.
We know for certain that in autumn 1822 he composed the first two movements and bean a scherzo, breaking off after 20 bars.
He gave the torso to his friend Anselm Huttenbrenner, and apparently forgot about it. the work’s incomplete state may just be linked to the onset of Schubert’s serious illness (syphilis)late in 1822.
But his reasons for abandoning the symphony were more likely due to a creative crisis during the years 1818-22. Virtually all of his other instrumental works from this period were likewise left as fragments.
And, as with the symphony, Schubert’s failure to complete them testifies to his struggles to evolve a new conception of the four-movement sonata ideal that reconciled the powerful impact of Beethoven’s middle-period works with an increasingly subjective melodic and harmonic vision.
1-2:Schubert Symphony No. 8 in B Minor – ‘Unfinished’
3-6:Beethoven Symphony No. 3 in E-flat, Opus 55 – ‘Eroica’
If I had a choice between my current creative state and Schubert’s ‘creative crisis of 1818-1822’ – I’ll take Schubert’s any day. We should all have such writer’s block!