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Prescott Cunningham Moore
- Publié sur Amazon.com
Many listeners are already familiar with Harnoncourt's Beethoven cycle, previously released without the overtures, the mass, and the concertos. Those that have not heard this set or are unfamiliar with Harnoncourt are in for a treat, so long as they approach Harnoncourt's interpretations with open ears.
Indeed, across the board, Harnoncourt is up to his usual antics in this set. And I say that with all due respect to this great conductor, who's forays into Haydn I consider reference performances and who's Bruckner is revelatory. However, Harnoncourt is always controversial for his unique sense of discovery, and that quality certain pervades this set. Take, as a case study, the first movement of the Eighth, where Harnoncourt touches every measure with unique phrasing markings, extreme dynamics, and quirky punctuations. At times, his ideas can be somewhat off-putting or even strange. Take, for example, how the timpani and lower strings emphasize the three four time by accenting the downbeat during the C major cadence at the close of the exposition. Interesting, yes, but it covers up the violin figures and comes off more grotesque and vulgar than exciting. Or listen to how Harnoncourt's overly muscular handing of the beginning of the recapitulation almost completely covers the lower strings. On the other hand, listen to Harnoncourt's delightful handling of the declamatory two-four rhythmic outbursts where he really emphasizes the syncopated quality of the music. Or listen to how he really adds extra excitement to the already over-charged development with thrilling brass playing. Harnoncourt unearths many details and certainly presents this too-familiar music in a new light.
Another example is Harnoncourt's sixth, which was controversial then and remains an acquired taste. Harnoncourt's incredibly relaxed and "legato heavy" first movement really takes the cheerful title to heart. It is not the overwhelming joy of Toscanni and Vanska or the heartwarming cheer of Bohm or Dohnanyi - rather, it is a warm but restrained calm upon entering the country that never really seems to reach happy. Harnoncourt is saving true happiness for the finale - a valid interpretive idea - but it still results in underplayed first and second movements.
But when at his best, Harnoncourt can create magic like few other conductors. His seventh is a case-in-point, a reference performance if there ever was one. The finale is just the finest on disc, period. He takes it at a ferocious clip, but unlike Abbado in his first Berlin cycle, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe plays with a virtuosic flair that is nothing short of astounding. It must be heard to be believed!
Listeners who crave something new from the canonic nine would we well served to get this set. At the same time, listeners interested in purchasing just two or three sets of the Beethoven symphonies (really, who can own just one?) may be better served by other cycles. Szell's reference cycle is a nice alternative, as is Blomstedt, Bohm, Gardiner, Toscanini, or, more recently, Vanska or Jarvi. Still, Harnoncourt's cycle is absolutely necessary for those who want a well-rounded Beethoven collection. While his interpretations may be unconventional, I still find myself returning to this cycle and always find new surprises upon each hearing.
The same qualities are present in the other orchestral works in the set. However, the concertos are another matter entirely. Aimard, like Harnoncourt, is interested in personalizing the five concertos with his own unique interpretations. However, the result is, at least in my opinion, just too much. Both Harnoncourt and Aimard seem so interested in dissecting the music that they seem to get lost along the way, busying themselves in performances that end up sounding fussy and overly intellectualized. And while our cup certainly does not overflow with great concerto cycles (Fleisher/Szell and the recent Goode/Fischer immediately come to mind as standouts in this glutted mass), listeners can find cycles that present more coherent interpretations. That being said, these performances, like the symphonies, are fascinating, and listeners that know this music well may find Harnoncourt and Aimard's probing readings exactly for what they are looking.
Sonics throughout are good, not great, and are beginning to show their age. Page flipping, breathing, and on-stage noises pepper this set. They are certainly not distracting, but considering modern recording standards, they do sound out-of-place.
So it is with that qualified reservation that I recommend this set.