James Judd / New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Beethoven: Egmont, Op. 84; Ah! Perfido, Op. 65

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Beethoven's Egmont Overture, Op. 84, has been a staple of symphonic programs almost ever since there has been such a thing, but the rest of the music he wrote for Goethe's historical drama is much less commonly heard. the music includes songs, instrumental entr'actes and other instrumental interludes, and even a melodrama with music and spoken text. It's something less than a potential second Beethoven opera -- the structures, except in the overture, are pretty simple (the vocal pieces are, after all, diegetic songs) -- and something more than potboiler Beethoven. The instrumental pieces have plenty of examples of the ecstatic slow melody mode that would truly flower during Beethoven's late period. These are nicely handled by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under James Judd, although the Overture breaks no new ground and sometimes seems to have trouble getting off the ground it does cover. The singing of soprano Madeleine Pierard in the role of Clärchen is a plus; she's a strong dramatic singer whom one would like to hear in other vocal music of the period. She delivers a fiery version of the concert aria Ah! Perfido, Op. 65, to round out the disc, but this Italian-language piece does not fit with the rest of the music. Much more apropos, and even rarer, are two short marches that are roughly contemporaneous with the Egmont music and have the fascinating minimal quality that Beethoven's short pieces sometimes possess. A strong choice for those assembling a complete Beethoven bookshelf. The recording is from sessions held in two different places at different times, and the joints are not seamless. Texts appear in their original languages, plus in English, but the booklet notes, which rough in some of the action of the play, are in English only.

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