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  PentaTone Classics -
  PTC 5186 312 (5 discs)
  Beethoven: The 9 Symphonies - Herreweghe
  Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 1-9

Royal Flemish Philharmonic
Philippe Herreweghe (conductor)
Track listing:
  Classical - Orchestral
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Related titles: 5

Reviews: 1

Review by Joseph Ponessa December 6, 2013 (7 of 8 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
With the temperature no higher than seven degrees below zero for the past three days, I have been house-bound and have taken the time to listen to some of the Beethoven cycles that have piled up over the past couple of years. I was surprised at how definite my preferences were: Philippe Herreweghe and Jan Willem de Vriend bested all comers in the Multi-Channel category.
What is it about the two of them that made their recorded cycles so excellent? I believe it is that they both come to Beethoven from out of the past--out of Beethoven's past. Obviously someone who conducts mainly Mahler is going to see something different in Beethoven's symphonic opus than someone who conducts mainly Bach. The Mahlerian will see the seeds of potentiality in Beethoven's music, its forward thrust. The Bachian will note the harmonic foundations of Beethoven's writing, if you will, the polyphony in his music.
Harmonic texture is part of all composition, but some composers rely more upon it than others. Brahms perhaps has the most dense texture of all composers, and the internal voices have to speak. Beethoven has not been valued so much for his polyphony as for his cosmic sweep. I think Herreweghe and de Vriend have righted that wrong.
Herreweghe has been a prolific artist for Harmonia Mundi, recording over sixty albums for them, the lion's share of them Bach albums. He has recorded among other things Bach's Magnificat, both of the Passions, the short Masses, and a wide swath of the cantatas. Only one of these Bach recordings has made its way onto SACD, a two-disc set of Christmas Cantatas from Leipzig, now OOP. I just managed to scoop up a used copy at a fairly hefty price, and on hearing it was most happy for the investment. A blu-ray has just appeared in the last few weeks, with Herreweghe conducting a very fine performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio. I posted a review of that to yesterday.
Herreweghe founded his Collegium Vocale Gent in 1970, and they have fine-tuned their musicianship over the course of the past three decades. Because the blu-ray has a picture on the screen (not all blu-rays do, anymore), one can see that the Collegium comprise four female sopranos, one female and three male altos, four tenors and four basses. This is not the massive entourage of the Wiener Singverein or the Chorus of the Teatro alla Scala Milano. Each singer carries an intrinsic part of the polyphony. Of course, they only sing in the last movement of Beethoven's final symphony, but Herreweghe conducts his Royal Flemish Orchestra in such a way as to bring out the SATB voices in all the instruments. One hears delightful harmonies emerging from out of the melody line, through every bar of all nine symphonies. It is a true delight to hear all nine symphonies in a day.
Others have reviewed the individual symphonies as they emerged, and so I will not try to differentiate one symphony from another here. Obviously the Ninth is a highlight because Herreweghe gets to use his full choral forces, alongside members of the Accademia Chigiana Siena. The fact that I have heard it now four times through should make my feelings clear enough.
I am not ready to review De Vriend's set yet. I have just ordered his SACD of Bach's Christmas Oratorio, and I want to hear that before I write anything. Maybe next week. I will just note now that Herreweghe's set is DSD, but De Vriend's is not. On the other hand, De Vriend's is 5.1 while Herreweghe's is 5.0.

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Works: 9  

Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21
Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36
Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 "Eroica"
Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60
Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67
Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 "Pastoral"
Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92
Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93
Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral"