Beethoven: Leonore (1806 version)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm Gold
WORKS: Leonore (1806 version)
PERFORMER: Pamela Coburn, Mark Baker, Jean-Philippe Lafont, Victor von Halem; Cologne Radio Choir, Beethovenhalle Orchestra, Bonn/Marc Soustrot
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 337 0826-2
The work we cherish as Fidelio was Beethoven’s final rewrite, after an eight-year gap, of an opera he’d first composed in 1805 and revised the following year. The two first attempts, collectively known as Leonore, are hugely instructive glimpses into Beethoven’s workshop. The 1806 version has generally been ignored in favour of occasional performances of the 1805 score, as notably recorded in 1997 by John Eliot Gardiner. This premiere recording of the 1806 version is therefore of exceptional interest.

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Gardiner patched in with some later material, but this version is complete in itself and benefits from researches in the Beethoven Archive in Bonn. The 1806 Leonore still breathes the air of The Magic Flute, but the Marzelline sub-plot is condensed and the heroic-visionary quality of Fidelio already in sight. The principal additions are the Leonore No. 3 Overture, the march for Pizarro’s entrance and the recitative ‘Gott! welch’ Dunkel hier’ preceding Florestan’s dungeon aria, well sung by Mark Baker. The introspective ending to the aria is more touchingly human than the ecstatic vision of 1814. The other singers do not always reach Baker’s level, but this is an intelligent, enjoyable performance, well supported by notes and libretto in the booklet. Patrick Carnegy