An Introduction to Ludwig van Beethoven

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This may be a CD's worth of recycled recordings from the 1980s dressed up as An Introduction to Ludwig van Beethoven, but it differs from other best-of Beethoven releases out there in one major respect: the album doesn't consist of a sequence of excerpts. After an introductory overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, you will hear two complete works: the Piano Concerto No. 5, "Emperor," and the Symphony No. 5 in C minor. There's a lot to be said for this -- for the idea that if you don't concentrate on a major work all the way through, you're not really beginning to get what's going on in Beethoven, who was rarely about tunes and always about forms. The work pair presented here makes sense, as well, illustrating two major facets of Beethoven's creative personality: the concerto is a piece that expanded the boundaries of its genre, while the Symphony No. 5 is furiously concentrated. The performances by England's City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Walter Weller are on the restrained side, and the first movement of the symphony is taken unusually slowly. If you are indeed using this disc as an introduction to Beethoven, be aware that the outer movements of the Piano Concerto No. 5 need to have a bit more stomp and a more dramatic sweep than they are given here in the orchestra. The piano part, however, is given a fine reading, with many sensitive details, by the underrated British Beethoven specialist John Lill. Sound is just fair; the magical tympani strokes at the end of the first movement of the Piano Concerto No. 5 are barely audible. But for an introduction to Beethoven on the likes of a long car trip, this just might get you rolling.

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