Bruggen: Beethoven - The 9 Symphonies (5 CD box set, APE)
Bruggen: Beethoven - The 9 Symphonies (5 CD box set, APE)

Orchestra: Orchestra of the 18th Century
Conductor: Frans Brüggen
Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Audio CD
SPARS Code: DDD
Number of Discs: 5 CD box set
Format: APE (image+cue)
Label: Philips
Size: 1.56 GB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

# Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by Orchestra of the 18th Century
Conducted by Frans Bruggen

# Egmont, incidental music, Op. 84 Overture (Sostenuto, ma non troppo – Allegro)
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by Orchestra of the 18th Century
Conducted by Frans Bruggen

# Coriolan Overture, Op. 62
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by Orchestra of the 18th Century
Conducted by Frans Bruggen

# Symphony No. 5 in C minor (“Fate”), Op. 67
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by Orchestra of the 18th Century
Conducted by Frans Bruggen

# Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by Orchestra of the 18th Century
Conducted by Frans Bruggen

# Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by Orchestra of the 18th Century
Conducted by Frans Bruggen

# Symphony No. 3 in E flat major (“Eroica”), Op. 55
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by Orchestra of the 18th Century
Conducted by Frans Bruggen

# Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by Orchestra of the 18th Century
Conducted by Frans Bruggen

# Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by Orchestra of the 18th Century
Conducted by Frans Bruggen

# Symphony No. 6 in F major (“Pastoral”), Op. 68
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by Orchestra of the 18th Century
Conducted by Frans Bruggen

# Symphony No. 9 in D minor (“Choral”), Op. 125
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by Orchestra of the 18th Century
with Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Eike Wilm Schulte, Jard van Nes, Lynne Dawson
Conducted by Frans Bruggen

Disc: 1
01. Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21: 1. Adagio molto – Allegro con brio
02. Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21: 2. Andante cantabile con moto
03. Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21: 3. Menuetto. Allegro molto e vivace
04. Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21: 4. Finale. Adagio – Allegro molto e vivace
05. Egmont, incidental music, Op. 84: Overture (Sostenuto, ma non troppo – Allegro)
06. Coriolan Overture, Op. 62
07. Symphony No. 5 in C minor (‘Fate’), Op. 67: 1. Allegro con brio
08. Symphony No. 5 in C minor (‘Fate’), Op. 67: 2. Andante con moto
09. Symphony No. 5 in C minor (‘Fate’), Op. 67: 3. Allegro
10. Symphony No. 5 in C minor (‘Fate’), Op. 67: 4. Allegro

Disc: 2
01. Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36: 1. Adagio molto – Allegro con brio
02. Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36: 2. Larghetto
03. Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36: 3. Scherzo. Allegro
04. Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36: 4. Allegro molto
05. Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92: 1. Poco sostenuto – Vivace
06. Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92: 2. Allegretto
07. Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92: 3. Presto – Assai meno presto
08. Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92: 4. Allegro con brio

Disc: 3
01. Symphony No. 3 in E flat major (‘Eroica’), Op. 55: 1. Allegro con brio
02. Symphony No. 3 in E flat major (‘Eroica’), Op. 55: 2. Marcia funebre. Adagio assai
03. Symphony No. 3 in E flat major (‘Eroica’), Op. 55: 3. Scherzo. Allegro vivace
04. Symphony No. 3 in E flat major (‘Eroica’), Op. 55: 4. Finale. Allegro molto
05. Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93: 1. Allegro vivace e con brio
06. Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93: 2. Allegretto scherzando
07. Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93: 3. Tempo di menuetto
08. Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93: 4. Allegro vivace

Disc: 4
01. Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60: 1. Adagio – Allegro vivace
02. Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60: 2. Adagio
03. Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60: 3. Allegro vivace
04. Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60: 4. Allegro ma non troppo
05. Symphony No. 6 in F major (‘Pastoral’), Op. 68: 1. Erwachen heiterer Empfindungen bei der Ankunft auf dem Lande (Allegro ma non tropp
06. Symphony No. 6 in F major (‘Pastoral’), Op. 68: 2. Szene am Bach (Andante molto mosso)
07. Symphony No. 6 in F major (‘Pastoral’), Op. 68: 3. Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute (Allegro)
08. Symphony No. 6 in F major (‘Pastoral’), Op. 68: 4. Gewitter, Sturm (Allegro)
09. Symphony No. 6 in F major (‘Pastoral’), Op. 68: 5. Hirtengesang. Frohe und dankbare Gefühle nach dem Sturm (Allegretto)

Disc: 5
01. Symphony No. 9 in D minor (‘Choral’), Op. 125: 1. Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso
02. Symphony No. 9 in D minor (‘Choral’), Op. 125: 2. Molto vivace
03. Symphony No. 9 in D minor (‘Choral’), Op. 125: 3. Adagio molto e cantabile
04. Symphony No. 9 in D minor (‘Choral’), Op. 125: 4. Presto
05. Symphony No. 9 in D minor (‘Choral’), Op. 125: 4. O Freunde, nicht diese Töne
06. Symphony No. 9 in D minor (‘Choral’), Op. 125: 4. Allegro assai
07. Symphony No. 9 in D minor (‘Choral’), Op. 125: 4. Alla marcia. Allegro vivace assai
08. Symphony No. 9 in D minor (‘Choral’), Op. 125: 4. Andante maestoso – Adagio ma non troppo ma divoto
09. Symphony No. 9 in D minor (‘Choral’), Op. 125: 4. Allegro energico, sempre ben marcato
10. Symphony No. 9 in D minor (‘Choral’), Op. 125: 4. Allegro ma non tanto

Outstanding Beethoven Choice, Especially Among Period Instrument Performances

This complete set of the Beethoven symphonies enters a distinguished and competitive field of consideration. Not only have quite a few conductors and bands already had their say; but often long-lived outings by famous legacy and famous living conductors hold pride of place in people’s collections.

The options include three different domains that have emerged since the early music movement began to change our ears about everything.

What started as period instruments versus modern, now further differentiates into modern band performances that have been influenced by period performance. How to sort?

Among the period instrument offerings, we have the Hanover Band under Roy Goodman, the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantic under John Eliot Gardiner, the London Classical Players under Sir Roger Norrington, the Academy of Ancient Music under Christopher Hogwood, and this one, with the Orchestra of the 18th Century under Frans Bruggen.

The Gardiner set is widely considered the front runner of period instrument band versions for various reasons. Some listeners feel otherwise.

Among the modern instrument sets, we have the likes of All the Beethoven led by Toscanini, Furtwangler, Bruno Walter, George Szell, Otto Klemperer, Georg Solti, Gunter Wand, Kurt Sanderling, Janos Ferencsik, Herbert Blomstedt, Leonard Bernstein (NYP & VPO), Ricardo Muti, Kurt Masur, Andre Cluytens, Pierre Monteux, Sir Colin Davis, Sir Simon Rattle, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Michael Tilson Thomas, Daniel Barenboim, Bernard Haitink, Sir Charles Mackerras, Erich Leinsdorf, Antal Dorati, Walter Weller, Eugen Jochum, Richard Hickox, Lorin Maazel, Rudolf Kempe, Karl Bohm, Herbert von Karajan, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Rene Leibowitz, Carlo Maria Giulini – with the bands ranging across most of the planet’s great and aspiring ensembles.

One can even go back to old 78 rpm transfers now, in surprisingly listenable sound at times – and hear the past via legacy figures like Felix Weingartner.

As if choosing between these two expanded options were not enough, we also have that third stream of performances. Various modern instrument bands have been influenced by this or that important aspect of performance as it shifted when period instrument playing began to be more widely heard. This interesting group must at least include – Abbado leading the BPO, Jaap van Sweden leading the Hague Residentie, Nikolaus Harnoncourt leading the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Bela Drahos leading the smallish Esterhazy Sinfonia, and David Zinman leading the Tonhalle Zurich. (Zinman with the Tonhalle – at budget price no less – is probably the hands down leader in this pack, though you may beg to differ. In any case, you must get his Missa Solemnis, and his ongoing Beethoven concerto series now being released.)

So many of these performances have something to recommend them that playing best of games falls short of really listening. So what about listening to this set by Frans Bruggen and the Orchestra of the Eighteenth?

I was getting a coffee carrier order for my office a few years ago when I caught one of the Beethoven overtures being played on the local radio station. Fortunately, the overture wasn’t so long that I missed hearing about the players. Thus, I was hooked by ear first, and later filled in the recording information details when the announcer broke in later. So what immediately caught my ear?

Vitality. Snapped Beethoven rhythms with just the right oomph in sforzandos. (Eugen Jochum supposedly said, The sforzando is the secret to good Beethoven.) Upbeat tempos – that don’t rush or speed past instrumental colors or preclude lyrical beauty or mangle narrative point and phrasing.

The recorded balance available in this set is marvelous. It neatly lets its shining musical angels dance on the head of the engineer’s pins. Strings are gut string sounding, but never for one moment lose presence or articulation. Just when you expect woodwinds or brass to break through and obscure the strings, as happens in most original instrument performances at least in passing – those strings will reappear – and not just for show or a reminder that they are still there, but for sheer musical message. The longer I listened, the more expertly I heard how the shifting balances between and among the period instrument departments of this band were always for musical message reasons, not just a helpless consequence of the physics of period instruments. This band is just that good.

It probably is easy to mistake this consistent balance in these musical proceedings for something too casual, too easy to play along with, too genial. This balance does capture and depend on an unfailing sense of deep classical poise. But the fact is, something mysterious and nourishing to ear and mind and heart comes through, more fully in these outings than in so many others. There is enough flash, and drama, and contrast that one hardly forgets that Beethoven is the composer. Don’t forget homespun, rough wit. And plenty of nature walks out of doors. But this Beethoven fellow has a big, big, big heart, too. And although it doesn’t overly call attention to itself on first hearing, over the long run of listening, these performances express one of the west’s greatest musical minds, reaching, reaching, reaching – and grasping into the intelligent beyond.

So the mysterious, ineffable Beethoven is here, too. You know, that fellow who could sing an ode to humanity in his final symphony. This Ninth Symphony has the sheer Bel Canto heritage that makes Gardiner so irresistible and revelatory, along with hot brick ovens full of hearty, brown bread inner strength. There is plenty of fizz, fire, pizzaz, and zap – but you won’t get a sugar crash later. The energy has gotten way down inside you and makes you feel still human for just another day. The choral and solo singing is one with the basic ethos. Instead of human voices having to try to sound instrumental, the period players get a chance to sound more like embodied, singing creatures. This reverse is a miracle that happily startles in its unobtrusive way, and wears very well over the long run of listening to this set.

3 Comments

  1. Man, I can’t believe people still recommend that crappy Gardiner set when this one’s so many times better. Everyone need to spread the love and mention Bruggen as being the reference period Beethoven set. Many thanks!

Leave a Reply