14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Gerhard P. Knapp
- Published on Amazon.com
Christian Thielemann's readings of the first three Beethoven symphonies in splendid video and uncompressed audio are first-rate interpretations, though rather slow and painstakingly detail-focused. The Wiener Philharmoniker - at first in somewhat smaller complement, then, alas, in increasing strength - play exceedingly well, as can be expected. These are "traditional" interpretations, definitely not of the "historical" or "period" schools. Thielemann, however, is well aware of their accomplishments and he lets the woodwinds, brass and timpani (he often has hard sticks) shine through the rather dense strings fabric wherever he sees fit. I must admit that, after decades of listening (often uneasily) to "big band", bombastic, homogenized Beethoven, my ears opened wide with more recent developments. My reference recordings are: Norrington's 2002 Stuttgart Cycle (CD), Gielen (DVD) and, just recently discovered, Paavo Järvi's Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen cycle on DVD, which I find revelatory and a towering achievement. Next to these, Thielemann can still hold his own. As we know from his Bruckner readings, he is always conscious of the work as a whole and, moreover, of the totality of Beethoven's symphonic cosmos. He does underplay the incredible vigor and unbound energy of the First. His grip on the Second and Third is much better, although I still miss some of the heaven-storming energy, which he replaces with gravitas and strength. This is the reason for my four stars. These are, for better or for worse, very "Teutonic" interpretations, as are the two overtures in their severe splendor. The bonus work(shop) dialogues with Joachim Kaiser are stimulating, both participants in accord most of the time. I would have wished for a bit more productive dissent.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
This is, on the face of it, a very generous and tempting coupling of Beethoven's first three symphonies plus two overtures all on one disc. The recording company, C Major, is in my opinion one of the very best working today. As a result we get unfailingly excellent surround sound and high quality visuals with sympathetic and knowledgeable camera work. So what of the actual performances?
Thielemann is very much his own man in this important respect. What we have here is 'big band' Beethoven with a large modern orchestra. There is no effort made to reproduce in any way the sound world that Beethoven inhabited. The textures presented here are fuller and more luscious in contrast to the sparer and rawer sounds that 'authentic' instruments deliver. Thielemann favours a well upholstered sound world and for this he is much appreciated by his Viennese audiences. It will also appeal to all listeners at home who find the 'authentic' approach rather too lean for their taste.
Thielemann goes further than just the sound world though and adopts a 'Romantic Period' approach to expression that would fit easily with Berlioz (think of his Fantastic Symphony)and the later Romantics. This is achieved by extensive variations of speed and dynamics, none of which can be found in the score. Indeed by contrast, Beethoven's own instructions for speed, with very fast and steady metronome markings, have often raised doubts about the feasibility of performances at that rate. This has now been answered by the authentic movement who can give lithe performances possible at those speeds with their reduced orchestras and playing on more flexible older instruments.
I myself, was initially taken aback by Thielmann's approach and in particular struggled with his frequent choice of slow and very variable speeds. I felt he was attempting something that was well out of period and therefore inherently questionable. Upon further listening my views remain much the same - but nevertheless I rather enjoy this set of well performed, well recorded but seemingly indulgent Beethoven conducting. Not surprisingly these comments apply especially to the 3rd symphony which would be the one to sample to see if you like it. There are extensive extras provided in which Thielemann discusses his view of Beethoven with Joachim Kaiser.
In summary therefore, this comes with a strong positive recommendation but also with the proviso that this is unlikely to be first choice for purists who feel strongly about period performance style. I am certainly able enjoy it on its own terms but this is really Thielemann's Beethoven rather than the 'Beethoven' that we have now been taught to recognise by current researchers!
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Mark E. Stenroos
- Published on Amazon.com
These are willful interpretations that - IMHO - say a lot about Christian Thielemann and, occasionally, something important about Ludwig van Beethoven as well.
The performances of these early symphonies themselves are episodic, to put it kindly. It's one thing to fail to successfully link the sections of a given symphonic movement together into a whole, thereby unwittingly allowing us hear the seams in a work. It's quite another thing to create seams where none previously existed. This is a real debit in Thielemann's overall approach to the earlier works, IMO, especially as his performances of the later symphonies reflect a more traditional and moderate (read: successful) approach to Beethoven.
In the plus column, Thielemann observes every repeat in every symphony, and the Vienna Philharmonic sounds wonderful throughout.
On to the works themselves:
Thielemann has no love and carries no brief for Symphonies 1 & 2. I get the feeling that CT would have been fine recording only Symphonies 3 - 9 were that an option. Sym I/iii is raced through with little regard for nuance of any sort. Ensemble problems abound, mostly on the small scale, but they are there.
The overt classicism of the two early symphonies holds no enchantment for Maestro Thielemann. Fast movements are uncomfortably fast, with the slow movements being self-consciously slow. I'm not hearing any great interpretive insights in either symphony. Thielemann seems more concerned with doing a physical impersonation of the "relaxed energy" conducting styles of Carlos Keliber and Wilhelm Furtwängler than attending to what's going on right in front of him. Unfortunately for the listener, Thielemann's relaxation often verges on the indifferent. I wonder if, perhaps, Thielemann will revisit these works later in his career and find more in them than he does at this point in time.
The Eroica is the most successful performance out of the first 3 symphonies. I'm surprised Theilemann didn't double the winds in this symphony. It would have helped the balances in the tutti sections. The first movement suffers from Thielemann pulling the tempos around for no apparent reason other than that the orchestra will follow him. The second movement has suitable gravitas: I felt that the placement of the triplet pick ups in the double basses weren't always placed accurately. The orchestral sound gets a bit rough edged in the louder sections of this symphony. The third movement is highly energetic, with the French horns shining in their exposed calls.
In the Eroica finale, Thielemann provides an extended - and meaningless - unwritten pause before the oboe solo at the Poco andante (bar 348). The camera lingers on Thielemann as he freezes and extends this silence well beyond normal limits. It's a real, "look at me! I'm Christian Thielemann!" moment. You might think that your BD player has suddenly frozen up.
The oboe solo is then launched...and we get more extended visuals of Thielemann conducting. The camera then cuts away to the horns, who are providing supporting harmony for the oboist. The camera next cuts to the clarinet, back to the horns, etc. Who we don't catch a glimpse of is the effing solo oboist! At least not until the very end of the solo, when the camera gives a brief shot of his hands positioned on his horn (without showing his face).
I have to ask: why wouldn't you show the oboist during this solo? Is that too common an idea for this video? Are we making a statement by playing against expectations? I'd like to know.
Throughout these recordings (Symphonies 1 - 3), Thielemann seems particularly unconcerned about maintaining energy through the ends of phrases when those phrases encompass the "fall" that attends the natural rise and fall of a musical line. Oh, he's fine on the "rise" part, where energy is supplied in abundance. But when the musical line falls, the energy underneath it can sag incredibly. It's as if CT's thoughts are focussed on the "next point of interest" for him, a point that perhaps lies 8 to 12 bars in the future. For a person who thinks he's emulating Furtwängler, it's disappointing to hear the results of a conductor NOT being in the moment, at least when that moment represents the fall of a musical line. It's one thing to have a performance going on in your head that isn't being reflected by the group you're leading. It's quite another thing when the group you're leading is the Vienna Philharmonic, an orchestra whose pedigree in Beethoven performance SHOULD serve to engage even a conductor who has been leading Beethoven performances for decades. Thielemann? Not so much.
Not surprisingly, CT has no problems achieving an overly inflected diminuendo when it is indicated in the score. Too bad he doesn't avoid the energy sag elsewhere, ie: where a diminuendo occurs as the result of the musical line, where the composer didn't feel the need to mark a diminuendo because one doesn't mark those things that musicians sort of "get" - hors concours - because they're musicians.
Lest you think I'm singling out CT for such criticism, this problem seems to afflict many of today's conductors. It's more glaring when set against the work of the old-school conductors like Karajan, Walter, Szell and Bernstein, who paid attention and took care of such things as part of their normal modus operandi.
Finally, it bears mentioning that Thielemann has a penchant for speeding up and slowing down at cadential points for no apparent reason other than the fact that the music has reached such a point. These gestures add nothing to the music. In fact, they serve only to turn the spotlight onto CT in a "look what I can do/control" way.
Sound on the disc is excellent, as is the HD picture quality.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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Reviewing this very Blu-ray, "Discovering Beethoven: Symphonies No.s 1 2 & 3," Gerhard P. Knapp admits: "I...miss...the heaven-storming energy". Good God's Grief, but I do wholly agree with this well-marked observance, and wisely pronounced statement of fact. I want my Beethoven--these symphonies, in particular--to knock my argyles several counties over. The interpretation of Ludwig Van Beethoven--the kind producing a certain stentorian grandiosity--was the first rendition of his music I'd ever heard; it was the rendition with which I grew to love Beethoven's music, and, quite appropriately, to my ears any variation from this approach therefore sound insultingly misapplied.
It was, in fact, that very same "heaven-storming" approach that Knapp speaks of that eventually pulled this reticent resident of the 17th and 18th century Baroque sounds fully toward the more Romantic refrains of Ludwig Van. I was, before the eventual pulling, living a rather satisfactory life in the 17th and 18th centuries. Living amidst three quite brilliant Bach's: JS, CPE, and JC; one very beloved JD Heinichen, a very special JB Vanhal, so many others, AND with one additional, and rather exceptional, gentleman--the adopted uncle of all who came to him, (WA Mozart and Beethoven, himself), seeking his sage advice--Joseph Haydn. . . a rather satisfactory life . .
. . when I heard the First Movement of Ludwig van Beethoven's 3rd Symphony in E Flat Major. I was thrilled. Thrilled as I had been when I heard classical music for the very first time, and truly understood its beauty and magnificence.
I like my Beethoven the way I was raised to love my Beethoven. The music presented on the Blu-ray by conductor Christian Thielemann and the Vienna Philharmonic is quite great, but not specifically to my liking. It was boldly presented, somewhat quotational in its forward-looking reflexive tones, and borrowing a certain resonance from later Beethoven intonations, therefore giving the balance of the presentation--however inaudible--a certain lack of authenticity. It was all this, but was also wisely experimental.
Classical music should never be thought to honoured, to perfected, to be forever immutable. The subtle differences are why so many of us, so often, willingly buy the same work by the same composer, merely interpreted by a different conductor. For conductor Christian Thielemann's efforts I offer three stars; three stars for my satisfaction with the renditions of these three brilliant compositions. Finally, I award one additional star for Thielemann's clever dash and pluck. That makes the total score four--four stars honestly earned.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Beethoven's symphonies are among the greatest treasures of mankind. So, to see Amazon selling the complete cycle with a director as promising as Thielemann, a venerable orchestra like the Vienna Philharmonic, and Blu Ray format, it was inevitable to shop and enjoy the music. Although so far I've seen half of the cycle, I agree with others to appreciate the quality of interpretation, sound and image. Thielemann read nicely Beethoven, with a very clear direction (and sometimes not only with hands but with your whole body!) and a speed that can be very slow for some. I read some day that Beethoven should be interpreted more quickly (for example see the cycle of symphonies of Beethoven with the SWR Sinfonieorchester conducted by Michael Gielen in EuroArts) and Thielemann is certainly slower than many others. In some movements there are long pauses that resemble Bruckner. A brucknerian reading of Beethoven? After all, Thielemann has made excellent rendering of some symphonies of Bruckner with the Munich Orchestra.
In general, this is a good cycle, well recorded and a good addition to the discography for all lovers of Beethoven symphonies. For the third and seventh symphonies in video I prefer the Karajan version (in Deutsche Grammophon). The comments of Kaiser and Thielemann, in the form of dialogue, for each symphony are nice and warm and shows what the conductor feel for the work he directs. This very rarely we can see on the DVDs available in the classical repertoire.