Beethoven: Fidelio

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Fidelio
PERFORMER: Christine Brewer, John Mac Master, Sally Matthews, Andrew Kennedy; London Symphony Chorus & SO/Colin Davis
The first thing to say about this recording from two performances given in the Barbican last May is that Colin Davis’s conducting of the London Symphony Orchestra and the vocal forces is so impressive that it ranks with the greatest accounts I have ever heard of this work, or of almost anything. The second is to lament that he puts his magnificent achievement at a huge disadvantage by emitting so many expressive groans and grunts as virtually to make himself another instrument in the orchestra, one not scheduled by the composer. He obtrudes especially at moments of quiet intensity, and the dramatic opening of Act II, largely a series of powerful chords, alternating winds and strings, is equally impressive and infuriating. When everything is going full out you can’t hear him, but elsewhere I found myself tensing for the next intrusion. Even Glenn Gould was more reticent. If you can cope with that, then buy this set. As I’ve said, Davis’s interpretation is stupendous, weighty but moving forward with immense dramatic force, and with by far the greatest amount of orchestral detail that I have heard in any performance of this sublime work. Christine Brewer is a great Fidelio, her big voice under perfect control, electrifying at climaxes. The other singers are not in that class, and some of the spoke dialogue is irritatingly arch. The Florestan of John Mac Master is no more than tolerable, but everything is borne along on the surge of the conductor’s passion. Go to the live account under Klemperer, though, and you will hear a comparable conductor and a uniformly superb cast. Michael Tanner