Beethoven: Symphonies 1-9

With nearly two dozen complete sets of the Beethoven symphonies already on hand — including versions played on period instruments and one for solo piano — you might well question the value of one more. Journey a few bars into any of the five CDs of Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s new performances with the first-rate Chamber Orchestra of Europe, taped at live performances in Graz, Austria, and the value of the enterprise becomes both clear and momentous. Symphonies 1-9 are terrific renditions of the nine spacious monoliths that form the center of the symphonic repertory. The Berlin-born Harnoncourt, 62, has hitherto been known as an authentic-instrument fancier, but his baroque and classical recordings with his own Vienna-based Concentus Musicus are no preparation for the phenomenal energy that fuels this plunge into the heart of the Beethoven magic. This time the instruments are up-to-date except for the brass — old-style valveless trumpets and horns whose edgy brilliance cuts through the strings and woodwinds like tongues of flame. Yet the authenticity is in the spirit rather than the sound. By means known only to himself, Harnoncourt rekindles this magnificent music: It sounds as if it had been composed this morning. A+

Beethoven: Symphonies 1-9
  • Music