Vienna Classics: Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert

Media Review / Listening Diary 2012-07-28


2012-07-28 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2013-07-05 — New standard layout applied
2014-11-02 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-06-27 — Brushed up for better readability


Outline


Beethoven: 6 Bagatelles, op.126

The Recordings

Artur Schnabel

Beethoven: Piano Works 11, Schnabel, CD, cover

Ludwig van Beethoven: Diabelli Variations, op.120; Bagatelles, op.126; Rondo a Capriccio, op.129

Artur Schnabel(Historical Recordings 1937)

Naxos historical 8.110765 (CD, mono); ℗ / © 2005

Beethoven: Piano Works 11, Schnabel, CD, UPC-A barcode
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Glenn Gould

Beethoven: Variations opp.34 & 35, WoO 80; Bagatelles, Gould, CD, cover

Ludwig van Beethoven: Variations, opp.34 & 35; 32 Variations WoO 80; Bagatelles op.33 & 126

Glenn Gould (1974)

Sony classical SM2K 52 646 (2 CDs, stereo); ℗ 1970 – 1992 / © 1992

Beethoven: Variations opp.34 & 35, WoO 80; Bagatelles, Gould, CD, UPC-A barcode
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Vladimir Ashkenazy

Beethoven: Piano concertos, vol.I, Ashkenazy, CD, cover

Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nr.1, 2, & 4; 6 Bagatelles op.126

Vladimir Ashkenazy, Zubin Mehta, Wiener Philharmoniker (1984)

Decca 468 558-2 (2 CDs, stereo); ℗ 1984 / © 2001

Beethoven: Piano concertos, vol.I, Ashkenazy, CD, UPC-A barcode
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Alfred Brendel (1964)

Beethoven: Variations, Bagatelles, Brendel, CD, cover

Ludwig van Beethoven: Diabelli-Variations, op.120; Bagatelles, opp.33, 119 & 126; Rondo a Capriccio, op.129; Rondo op.51/1; Andante Favori WoO 57; “Ziemlich lebhaft”, WoO 60

Alfred Brendel (1964)

VoxBox CDX-5112 (2 CDs, stereo); ℗ / © 1995

Beethoven: Variations, Bagatelles, Brendel, CD, UPC-A barcode
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Alfred Brendel (1985)

Beethoven: Für Elise, Eroica Variations, Bagatelles, Brendel, CD, cover

Ludwig van Beethoven: Variations, op.35; Bagatelles, op.126; 6 Ecossaises, WoO 83

Alfred Brendel (1985)

Decca (originally Philips; Amazon MP3 download, stereo, 173 – 230 kbps)

Beethoven: Für Elise, Eroica Variations, Bagatelles, Brendel, CD, UPC-A barcode
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Ronald Brautigam

Beethoven: vol.10 - Für Elise, Bagatelles, Brautigam — CD, cover

Ludwig van Beethoven: “Für Elise”, The Complete Bagatelles — Bagatelles opp.33, 119, 126; Hess 57, 69, 73, 74; WoO 52 – 54, 56, 59 – 61, 61a

Ronald Brautigam (2010)

BIS Records, BIS-SACD-1882 (SACD); ℗ / © 2011

Beethoven: vol.10 - Für Elise, Bagatelles, Brautigam — CD, EAN-13 barcode
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Quick Comparison, Bagatelles, op.126

I now have six recordings of Beethoven’s 6 Bagatelles, op.126:

Five Versions on Modern Piano

  • Artur Schnabel, in a historical mono-recording from 1937: rating 3.5 / 5 (for more comments see my upcoming comparison note on Beethoven’s “Eroica” variations op.35.
  • Glenn Gould (1974): rating 2.2 / 5. For more comments see again my upcoming comparison note on Beethoven’s “Eroica” variations op.35: Gould is a brilliant thinker / mind. However, I think Beethoven is not his particular strength. Maybe one should not compare his interpretation with others. They really are his personal view on what he is reading in or would have done with Beethoven’s material. His performances are definitely interesting to listen to. Though, at least here, he tends towards extreme articulation and tempi, especially exaggerating slower tempi, e.g., plain Adagio rather than Andante. Also, he does not attempt to present these pieces as a series of related compositions.
  • Alfred Brendel‘s early recording from 1964 (rating: 3.2 / 5) to me has sloppy articulation. It isn’t quite satisfactory.
  • Vladimir Ashkenazy (rating: 3.2 / 5) is OK, but nothing special.
  • Alfred Brendel‘s newer recording from 1985 (rating: 4.0 / 5) to me is definitely better than his earlier one (see above), featuring a clearer, more detailed articulation, phrasing and agogics.

One Version on Fortepiano

  • Finally, Ronald Brautigam included the op.126 in volume 10 of his comprehensive recording of Beethoven’s keyboard works. As these Bagatelles are a late composition, he uses a fortepiano after Conrad Graf (1819), again built by Paul McNulty (2007). This instrument has maybe fewer colors in the sound than those by Walter & Sons, but they have more power / volume and are closer to the instruments that Beethoven used at the time of this composition (1823/24). I definitely prefer the sound of these fortepiani over the modern concert grand. Rating overall: 5.0 / 5

Beethoven: 24 Variations on “Venni amore”, WoO 65

The Recordings

Mikhail Pletnev

Beethoven: Variations & Bagatelles, Pletnev, CD, cover

Ludwig van Beethoven: Variations WoO 63 – 65, 68, 70; Variations op.34; Rondos WoO 48, 49; 2 Rondos op.51; 6 Menuets WoO 10; Bagatelles opp.33 & 119; Bagatelles WoO 52 & 56; “Andante favori” WoO 57, Polonaise op.89

Mikhail Pletnev

DG 457 493-2 (2 CDs, stereo); ℗ 1997

Beethoven: Variations & Bagatelles, Pletnev, CD, UPC-A barcode
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Ronald Brautigam

Beethoven: vol.12 - Venni amore, Variations, Brautigam — CD, cover

Ludwig van Beethoven: “Venni Amore”, Variations 1782 – 1795 — WoO 63 – 66, 68 – 70

Ronald Brautigam

BIS Records, BIS-SACD-1883 (SACD); ℗ / © 2012

Beethoven: vol.12 - Venni amore, Variations, Brautigam — CD, EAN-13 barcode
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Just a short remark on two recordings of Beethoven’s 24 Variations on the Arietta “Venni Amore” by Vincenzo Righini, WoO 65. One interpretation is part of Mikhail Pletnev’s collection of Variations and Bagatelles by Beethoven. The second one is the title piece in volume 12 of Ronald Brautigam’s ongoing project in which he wants to record all of Beethoven’s piano works. In this volume, Brautigam covers piano variations from 1782 – 1795. These are works composed at the age of 12 up to 25.

Quick Comparison, Variations, WoO 65

My comments are short:

  • Mikhail Pletnev‘s playing is impeccable, with near-perfect technique, always controlled, yet very differentiated, subtle. It is maybe sometimes a bit “intellectual” rather than emotional or driven by intuition.
  • Ronald Brautigam is almost the “pure opposite”. He prefers faster tempi. He is more intuitive / emotional. And his playing is much more colorful. He has one very powerful assistant: his replica of a fortepiano by Walter & Sons (1805) built by Paul McNulty in 2008. I can’t resist raving about this instrument! The Walter fortepiani are simply the most beautiful keyboard instruments (for music from around 1800) that I have ever heard. It is impossible even remotely to come close to this singing, colorful sound with a modern concert grand. Hence: not a chance for Pletnev to beat this with all his pianistic artistry! Of course, it’s not just the fortepiano. It takes artists such as Brautigam, Andreas Staier, or Kristian Bezuidenhout to explore its full potential!

Ratings: Pletnev: 3.6 / 5 (25 tracks), Brautigam: 5.0 / 5 (single track).


Schubert: Symphony in B minor, D.759 / Symphony in C major, D.944

Numbering Schubert’s Symphonies

There is a lot of confusion about the numbering of Schubert’s late symphonies:

  •  the “Unfinished” Symphony in B minor (D.759), used to be called Nr.8
  • it now became clear that the “lost” Nr.7 (“Gmunden-Gasteiner Sinfonie”) is identical to Nr.9 (the “Great” Symphony in C major, D.944)

With this, we now “lost” Symphony No.7. Therefore, given that the “Great” Symphony in C major was composed after the fragment in B minor (“Unfinished”), I’m trying to avoid numbering altogether. I rather refer to the associated numbers from the Deutsch catalog (“D” numbers).

  • (No.7:) “Unfinished” Symphony in B minor (D.759)
  • (Nr.8:) “Great” Symphony in C major (D.944)

The Recordings

Wilhelm Furtwängler

Brahms: Symphony 3; Schubert: Symphony 8, Furtwängler, CD, cover

Franz Schubert: Symphony in B minor, “Unfinished” (D.759)
Johannes Brahms: Symphony Nr.3

Wilhelm Furtwängler, Berliner Philharmoniker

DG 423 572-2 (CD, mono); ℗ 1976

Brahms: Symphony 3; Schubert: Symphony 8, Furtwängler, CD, UPC-A barcode
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Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Schubert: The Symphonies, Harnoncourt, CD, cover

Franz Schubert: The Symphonies

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Teldec 4509-91184-2 (4 CDs, stereo); ℗ / © 1993

Schubert: The Symphonies, Harnoncourt, CD, UPC-A barcode
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Thomas Dausgaard

Schubert: Symphonies 8 & 9, Dausgaard, CD, cover

Franz Schubert: Symphony in B minor, “Unfinished” (D.759); Symphony in C, “Great” (D.944)

Thomas Dausgaard, The Swedish Chamber Orchestra Örebro

BIS Records, BIS-SACD-1656 (SACD); ℗ 2009 / © 2010

Schubert: Symphonies 8 & 9, Dausgaard, CD, EAN-13 barcode
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I’m planning on a more detailed comparison of my Schubert symphony recordings. Essentially, I’m waiting for David Zinman’s live recording with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra. I recently added Thomas Dausgaard‘s CD with the “Unfinished” Symphony in B minor (D.759) and the “Great” Symphony in C major (D.944). I just did a quick comparison of the recordings that I currently have.

There’s one big, big revelation on this new CD. The “Unfinished” Symphony in B minor (D.759). I currently have 3 recordings of this symphony, by Furtwängler (1952), Harnoncourt (1992), and now Dausgaard (2006).

Preliminary Comparison, Symphony in B minor, D.759

  • Wilhelm Furtwängler‘s interpretation is “loaded” with the romantic tradition. The latter probably viewed Schubert as mostly a composer of the Romantic period. Irrespective of the tempo annotations, Furtwängler is emphasizing the “tragic” aspect in this symphony. As if he was deploying its unfinished state. He takes extremely slow, heavy tempi. And he omits the repeat of the exposition in the first movement. This is the way most of the 20th century viewed and heard this symphony. I haven’t listened to my Böhm LP recording in many years, but it must be pretty close.
  • Nikolaus Harnoncourt is making serious efforts in “de-dusting the score”. He is using a more historically informed approach, a fresher articulation, etc. However, he doesn’t quite succeed in freeing himself from the traditions:. His tempi are more or less still what tradition dictated 20 years ago.
  • Thomas Dausgaard‘s interpretation is the first one which takes Schubert’s tempo annotations for their real value. the score reads Allegro moderato — Andante con moto. Many listeners may almost “fall out of bed” when they hear this for the first time. It’s an entirely different world, a different symphony. And it all makes sense (to me, at least): fascinating!

My preliminary ratings: Furtwängler 2.5 / 5, Harnoncourt 4.0 / 5, Dausgard 5.0 / 5.

Preliminary Comparison, Symphony in C major, D.944

In the “Great” Symphony in C (D.944), there isn’t such a pronounced tempo difference between Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Thomas Dausgaard. The tempi really are comparable between the two recordings. However, Thomas Dausgaard uses lighter articulation and a smaller orchestra. He also applies more agogics, the sound is more colorful

My preliminary rating: Harnoncourt 4.0 / 5, Dausgaard 5.0 / 5


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