It’s Beethoven’s 250th birthday yr, and live performance halls everywhere in the world had been going to resound this spring — much more than regular — together with his 9 epochal symphonies.
But with stay performances suspended by the coronavirus pandemic, we classical music critics determined to take issues into our personal fingers and create our dream cycle, that includes our favourite recording of every symphony with only one rule: No conductor or orchestra may seem greater than as soon as.
This is by its nature a debate-provoking endeavor, however (and?) we hope you take pleasure in it. Please inform us your picks within the feedback!
Beethoven was 29 in 1800, when his First Symphony premiered in Vienna. Though his status had been rising, a symphony was a serious assertion, and this piece exudes the freshness and creativeness of a brand new arrival on the scene.
I like Otto Klemperer’s 1957 efficiency with the Philharmonia Orchestra as a result of he makes the piece sound so assured and grand, even majestic, whereas subtly bringing out the humor and intricacy. New arrival? Maybe, however the Beethoven who emerges on this account seems like somebody confidently taking his place as a grasp. ANTHONY TOMMASINI
Beethoven’s impeccably crafted Second Symphony is certainly one of his most underrated, maybe as a result of its unflappable grin and surface-level nostalgia are usually not precisely in line with his wild-haired, anguished picture. Sure, the Second, which premiered in 1803, has its share of dramatic volatility, but it surely’s predominantly cheerful and witty.
Roger Norrington’s recordings with the London Classical Players set the tone for traditionally knowledgeable Beethoven performances as a corrective to the weighty Romantic trend of the mid-20th century. His Second has a sunniness that peeks out with the opening and shines brightly via the finale. Especially great is his lithe and candy Larghetto, delicate like the sunshine dabs of a ballet dancer on level. JOSHUA BARONE
“Because of inclement weather,” the satirist Kurt Tucholsky as soon as quipped, “the German revolution took place in music.” The first shot of that revolution resounded in 1803, on the premiere of Beethoven’s Third Symphony, nicknamed the “Eroica.” Beginning with the epically proportioned first motion, this piece tears up the rule e-book of the Classical symphony.
In Leonard Bernstein’s 1966 recording with an invigorated New York Philharmonic, the jarring accents, positioned in all of the metrically flawed locations, nearly actually sound like somebody ripping up paper. They’re decisive, unsentimental and fast. The tempo is so brisk, the articulation of the strings so snappy, that the motion appears to proceed in an exhilarating swirl of confetti. Bernstein is just not above milking pathos: The second motion’s funeral march unfolds with lugubrious viscosity. But such moments solely deepen this interpretation’s humanity. CORINNA da FONSECA-WOLLHEIM
Well, certainly one of them needed to be the least standard. Beethoven’s Fourth is just not the ugly duckling of the symphonies a lot because the modest, slender particular person crushed on the subway bench between two large manspreaders. Written a number of years after the pathbreaking Third and within the midst of labor on the grand, roiling Fifth, the Fourth is full of life and genial. With frisky dotted and off-the-beat rhythms all through, it could possibly really feel like a symphony taking part in hide-and-seek in a sunny yard.
Despite and due to all this, it’s lovable. And Bernard Haitink and the London Symphony Orchestra make a heat, sleek case for the piece, with an pleasure generated by sincere, wealthy but crisp taking part in relatively than by exaggerations of pace or quantity. ZACHARY WOOLFE
“Dun-dun-dun DUN.” And then the half-hour that follows: filled with indelible motifs and a triumphant ending. In sum, probably the most famend symphony of all time.
How finest to take it in, 200 years later? There are quick, refined interpretations, like Carlos Kleiber’s with the Vienna Philharmonic. But strive the diabolically slow 1968 take with Pierre Boulez conducting the New Philharmonia Orchestra. Those famous first four notes can sound turgid, wrong. But the angsty churn has dramatic purpose, with a peculiar emotional power. Later, when the trumpets re-enter, they have Mahlerian gravitas, instead of sounding like they’re hurrying to join a party already in progress. The coda is crushing.
Boulez later confessed to having second thoughts about the performance. And while this may never be your reference recording, I’ve found catharsis in it that I would be loath to trade for more idiomatically “correct” beauty. SETH COLTER WALLS
Given its premiere alongside the turbulent Fifth in 1808, the Sixth, nicknamed the “Pastoral,” all too often comes across in performance as a pretty but harmless landscape — or, worse, a lumbering countryside stroll. Trust Carlos Kleiber to blow the cobwebs away. Kleiber, the most elusive and perfectionist of musicians, could easily be allotted several spots on this list: the Fifth and Seventh, certainly, in his justly fabled recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic, and even the Fourth, with the Bavarian State Orchestra.
But Kleiber’s “Pastoral,” a taping his son preserved on a cassette of the only time he ever conducted the piece in concert, is arguably the greater achievement. It is an experience of shocking vigor, carefree dance and true danger; it’s fast and rhythmically insistent, but flows with such freedom that by the last few glorious minutes it has taken on a salvific, transcendent quality. In a way that isn’t quite true of Kleiber’s Fifth or Seventh, there is nothing else like this. DAVID ALLEN
The Seventh, first performed in 1813, requires both unbridled power and unceasing precision, savagery in its finale tempered by sensitivity in its sorrowful Allegretto. And not even Kleiber’s recordings have the force of Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony.
What Honeck provides is a capital-I Interpretation, something notably lacking from most of those conducting Beethoven with full, modern-instrument symphony orchestras at the moment. While conductors like Daniel Barenboim still stay close to Wilhelm Furtwängler’s Romantic tradition, and others, like Osmo Vanska, hew closer to the anti-Romantic ways of Arturo Toscanini, innovation in the last few decades has otherwise been limited mostly to an extended negotiation with historical performance practice. But Honeck seems to move beyond all that, delivering a thrilling account of Beethoven’s most purely exciting piece. DAVID ALLEN
Pity the Eighth Symphony’s placement between the Seventh (with its beloved Allegretto) and the immense, immortal Ninth. But this 1814 installment in Beethoven’s symphonic output — his shortest, at only 25 minutes — is a wonder of concision that asks more questions than it answers, and masks its innovations in lightheartedness and seeming irony. It’s a work that goes down easily, yet listen closely and you’ll hear intricacies and enigmas that reward repeated hearings.
As John Eliot Gardiner’s recent, eye-opening Beethoven cycle at Carnegie Hall showed, he could fit pretty much anywhere on this list. But his recording of the Eighth with his period-instrument Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique is particularly revealing, his brisk tempos an ideal fit for the locomotive drive of this breathless symphony — which, radically, doesn’t have a slow movement. And Mr. Gardiner doesn’t skimp on humor: In the opening of the mad-dash finale, with its playfully prolonged ending, he emphasizes an intrusive C sharp that halts the scampering theme for a moment that’s laugh-out-loud funny. JOSHUA BARONE
Few works were more central to Wilhelm Furtwängler’s artistic identity than Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. He conducted it famously — some say notoriously — in an extraordinary live performance with the Berlin Philharmonic as part of celebrations of Hitler’s birthday in 1942. The Furtwängler Ninth I cherish also carries some political baggage: It took place in 1951 to herald the reopening of the Bayreuth Festival after Word War II.
Though the playing is sometimes a little rough, the performance is magnificent, featuring the festival’s orchestra and chorus and four starry vocal soloists: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Elisabeth Höngen, Hans Hopf and Otto Edelmann. Furtwängler sometimes takes boldly restrained tempos, as in the opening of the first movement, which hovers with suspense yet maintains intensity. The Scherzo is weighty yet hurtling; the slow movement, radiant and spacious. The “Ode to Joy” finale has the fervor of a great opera performance. ANTHONY TOMMASINI