Havergal Brian’s extraordinary late creativity is almost unparalleled in musical history. Between the completion of Symphony No. 6 in 1948 and the end of his compositional life two decades later he wrote 26 symphonies. No. 6 marks a crucial point in his adoption of more concise forms and economy of expression in its single-movement span, a process taken even further in the brief but free polyphonic fantasia of No. 31. In Symphonies Nos. 28 and 29 Brian turned to the classical four-movement model but one which is wholly and idiosyncratically re-imagined. The intensity and even savagery of No. 28 is balanced by No. 29, Brian’s most lyrical late work.
Ludwig van Beethoven (baptized 17 December 1770 – 26 March 1827) was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers. His best known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 concertos for piano, 32 piano sonatas, and 16 string quartets. He also composed other chamber music, choral works (including the celebrated Missa Solemnis), and songs.
This DVD is a fascinating document of a great conductor and orchestra playing two of the most underrated of Shostakovich's symphonies in 1985 and 1986 concerts in Vienna's Musikverein. In his spoken preface to the Sixth Symphony, Bernstein says he wants to "right a wrong"–the "wrong" being the work's reputation as unstructured lightweight piece. The Haydnesque Ninth, despite idiosyncratically slow tempos is light and humorous, its sardonic touches here relished by Bernstein.
The Vienna Philharmonic isn't the ideal band for Shostakovich but Bernstein makes them play beyond their natural inclinations; here they lack only a bit more vulgarity in the brass and percussion to be fully idiomatic. The net result is a pair of deeply felt, emotionally powerful performances. Extras include Bernstein's cogent spoken prefaces to the works.
This is an energetic and well played performance and Mark Obert-Thorn has done marvellously well with the transfer. I love the “Pastoral” of all symphonies and to be able to hear this recording from seventy years ago in very tolerable sound is wonderful. I must say that for the general listener the recording from 1960 on Sony is in better sound and indeed a better performance. The Columbia Symphony Orchestra was in fact the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. There is another recording from 1946 from Philadelphia but I haven’t heard it in a decent transfer.(David R Dunsmore)
The sound and picture on these DVDs are excellent; the sound is truly comparable to a well-recorded CD. The soundtrack is available both in stereo and also an excellent 5.1 Dolby mix. The disks have a set of program notes and a biography of von Karajan.
In February 2001 Abbado and the BPO were guests at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome to perform the Beethoven symphonies. For these, Abbado chose to use a new edition by Jonathan del Mar, which consists of existing manuscripts, and "corrections by Beethoven," which gave the conductor the opportunty to "throw new light on his reading, which takes a consistent and lucid approach to articulation, phrasing and dynamics." The conductor elected to use fewer strings, reducing the bass group in symphonies 1, 2, 4 and 8 to only three double basses and four cellos. He also uses only two horns in symphony 5, three in symphony 3. The result is an uncommonly transparent listening experience. And the performances are spirited to say the least, no dawdling here whatever. There always is a forward impetus to these dynamic performances which are magnificently executed by the orchestra.
For those who own either box, these DVDs are self-recommending. Other listeners may rest assured that there are many reasons to acquire this set.
Abbado has been the most successful of contemporary conductors of Beethoven symphony cycles at blending period and modern orchestra performance practices. Where Barenboim is the staunch traditionalist, unafraid to appear to be reactionary in his single-mindedness, Haitink is the centrist, as ever, and Rattle is the pragmatist, picking and choosing (and not always successfully, in the final analysis), Abbado brings to the richness of the modern ensemble the brisk tempos and fresh-sounding spirit of the period-instrument movement.