Beethoven: Egmont, Op. 84 (CD review)

Also, "Ah! perfido," Op 65; Marches Nos. 1 and 2. Madeleine Pierard, soprano; Claus Obalski, narrator; James Judd, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.557264.

When Vienna's Royal Imperial Court Theater decided to stage poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's play Egmont in 1810 (thirty years after Goethe wrote it), they asked Beethoven to write the incidental music for it. Today, we don't see much of the play or the full score of the music, although the Overture has a remained a staple of the classical repertoire.

Admittedly, a little of this complete incidental music (beyond the famous Overture) on Naxos goes a long way, and some of it even becomes a tad tedious without the accompanying stage action, especially toward the middle of the work. Still, there is much in Beethoven's music to enjoy, and it is always good to have so economical a recordings as this new budget Naxos release of the complete score, recorded so well.

The play itself is rather melodramatic, and conductor James Judd and his New Zealand Symphony play it up not only for maximum dramatic effect but for it subtlety as well. In other words, you'll find the opening Overture and the closing "Victory Symphony" quite exciting and the quieter interludes in between equally charming, if, as I say, sometimes a bit redundant.

For quite a while, my own favorite recording of the music has been that of George Szell and the Vienna Philharmonic, made by Decca in the late Sixties, issued by them on CD in the Eighties in highlights form, and reissued complete on CD in the Nineties. I have to admit that by comparison Szell and the VPO are more highly charged than Judd and his New Zealanders, but Judd comes close, and many listeners will prefer him at the price.

Soloist Madeleine Pierrard has a lovely singing voice in her several numbers; Claus Obalski is in fine, mellifluous voice for his brief narration; and the New Zealand Symphony perform in their usual highly disciplined manner.

Filling out the program are two of Beethoven's little Marches, WoO 18 and 19, which he called his "music for horses"; and the Scena and Aria "Ah! perfido," Op. 65, in which Ms. Pierrard again sings most sweetly.

As far as Naxos's sound is concerned, it is fairly dynamic, with a modestly wide stereo spread, although it is also slightly soft and warm and displays little orchestral depth. Nevertheless, the acoustic is flattering, and the smooth, realistic concert-hall sound is entirely listenable. This is certainly an attractive album and well worth investigating.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa