Beethoven with Double Cheese

A high-cholesterol Beethoven symphony cycle with superstar conductor Christian Thielemann, 51, just ended in Paris and is now onstage in Berlin. The Paris cycle, at the famed Théatre des Champs-Élysées was served up Tuesday, November 23 with Symphonies Four and Five with Numbers Six and Seven the following evening. Saturday evening we heard the first three with a Sunday afternoon concert completing the cycle with a flourish with the 8th and the mighty 9th with Annette Dasch, Piotr Beczala, Mihoko Fujimura, Robert Holl and the Chorus of Radio France. The Berlin cycle, at the Philharmonie, will run from December 1 to 5.

The meaty sound drawn from the orchestra was accompanied with a good portion of thick Central European expressive sauce. The accelerandi and ritardandi were applied with relish with minimal attention paid to trimmings which might add some lightness to the texture. It harked back to performance standards of the late 19th Century as if the lo-cal “historical informed” movement never existed. The first two symphonies, animated by Beethoven’s studies with Joseph Haydn, had any humor or lightness carefully excised and his “Eroica” clocks in at 55 minutes.

He is without doubt one of the podium giants of our time and his juicy readings deserve the attention they get. There is a certain amount of engaging freedom in his style of leadership; no Herbert Von Karajan military precision here. With a beat less than precise, you will hear occasional lazy attacks but also an expressiveness by the orchestra not always heard with other conductors. One can only speculate as to what new depths he might discover in these scores in his reflective later life.

His recording of the cycle on DVD in Vienna’s Musikvereinsaal began in December 2008 (Symphonies 1 and 2) until the Ninth, in April of this year, with the same fine soloist. The cycle has been recorded by Unitel in high density  and 5.0 Surround Sound and includes a Blue-Ray version. While some DVDs are available in shops now, the complete set has been announced, with an introductory video, as ready for release and could be available (at least in Europe) as a stocking stuffer. France Musique has broadcast the first two concerts and these are available for streaming on the station’s website. The final two concerts will be broadcast – and available for streaming – in mid-December.

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