Beethoven: Der glorreiche Augenblick; Choral Fantasy

Hilary Davan Wetton / City of London Choir / Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

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Beethoven: Der glorreiche Augenblick; Choral Fantasy Review

by James Manheim

Beethoven's Choral Fantasy for piano, chorus, and orchestra, Op. 80, is generally paired on double-disc sets with the Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125. The main themes of the two works resemble each other (and both resemble that of the almost unknown song Gegenliebe, WoO 118). It makes much more sense, however, to pair the Choral Fantasy with the cantata Der glorreiche Augenblick, Op. 136 (The Glorious Moment), for both are experiments leading to Beethoven's late choral style. Ever since its own time, this cantata has lacked performances. The work was commissioned for a great public event, the celebrations in Vienna of Napoleon's defeat in 1815. Beethoven refused to approve it for publication, accounting for its high opus number, and no one would claim it as one of his masterpieces. Even the people who commissioned it, expecting Egmont music or at least something like Fidelio, must have been puzzled by the ungainly recitatives and the vast fields of tonic and dominant in the cantata. Here Beethoven discarded the heroic style of his middle period and felt his way toward a totally new public mode, achieving hints of it in the slow later movements and in the sparkling deployment of the children's choir at the end. The assembled forces of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the City of London Choir, and the Westminster Boys' Choir do very well, delivering clean, perhaps typically English readings of both works. The sound is sizable, but conductor Hilary Davan Wetton avoids trying to wring more out of the music than is there. Pianist Leon McCawley doesn't overdo the quasi-improvisatory quality of the solo-piano opening of the Choral Fantasy, and in Der glorreiche Augenblick Wetton has his singers deliver the rather dull patriotic text straightforwardly. The engineering at London's Cadogan Hall stays on top of the variety of forces on the program, and the album is recommended for serious fans of Beethoven's music.

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