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Barenboim leads a fantastic cycle in the Furtwanglerian tradition,
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This review is from: Beethoven: Complete Symphonies (Audio CD)
I started investigating and listening to classical music in late 2000 and into 2001. This Barenboim Beethoven cycle was recorded in 1999 and first released in 2000, so I must have just missed hearing about it and the acclaim it received. Fortunately I have now discovered it, and this 2004 reissue, which was lost in Amazon's cloud due to faulty labelling. This is a true Brilliant-style box, no jewel cases, six discs in cardboard sleeves and an excellent 108-page booklet.
With the emergence of the HIP (historically informed performance) movement, some Beethoven listeners have come to prefer the sleeker, faster style that was apparently the way the works were originally performed, which can be heard in the cycles led by Gardiner, Harnoncourt, Mackerras, Norrington and Zinman. Some conductors, like Claudio Abbado, have embraced the movement and recorded new cycles in the stripped-down style. But Daniel Barenboim is not part of that movement. His inspiration as a conductor is the great Wilhelm Furtwangler, and he consciously extends the German tradition that was developed across the 20th century, well-known to most classical music listeners. This is a fantastic Beethoven cycle on every level, with that understanding. The Staatskapelle Berlin has a deep, rich, burnished sound, and Barenboim's readings are masterful. Everyone who has heard these great works is likely to find places where they question a particular passage where the conductor takes a tempo or attack differently than in their favorite recording. But there is no question of Barenboim's vision and control, with some of Furtwangler's elan if not the seat-of-the-pants daring and stretching of tempos.
Having been listening to Beethoven and classical music for several years now, I have arrived at a point where I am increasingly likely to seek out a recording based on the orchestra. The Staatskapelle Berlin is not as well-known as the Berlin Philharmoniker, but it is one of Berlin's and Germany's finest symphony orchestras, with a long tradition. According to the liner notes, all of Beethoven's symphonies were heard in Berlin during the composer's lifetime, and the Berlin premieres were all by the Royal Prussian Court Orchestra, which is now the Staatskapelle Berlin. After World War II the SB was a leading East German (DDR) orchestra, and was led by Otmar Suitner through most of the DDR period. Today the SB shares the magnificent Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin, on the Unter den Linden on Museum Island, a World Heritage site. (It is currently closed for reconstruction, and performances have been moved to the Schiller Theater until 2013.) Daniel Barenboim (b. 1942) was voted Music Director for life by the musicians in 2000, and is still at the helm today. I have come to realize that beyond the Berlin Philharmoniker there are many fine German orchestras, including the Staatskapelle Dresden and the Staatskapelle Berlin which maintained the highest standards of music through the DDR years into the post-reunification period.
This Beethoven cycle is widely regarded as one of the finest recent state-of-the-art recordings. I can't recommend it more highly.