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Beethoven: Leonore

Zurcher Sing-Akademie; Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/René Jacobs, et al (Harmonia Mundi)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Marlis Petersen, Maximilian Schmitt, Dimitry Ivashchenko, Johannes Weisser, Robin Johannsen, Johannes Chum, Tareq Nazmi, Florian Feth, Julian Popken; Zurcher Sing-Akademie; Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/René Jacobs
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902414.15   120:20 mins (2 discs)

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Beethoven made three versions of his opera Fidelio – though it ended up, in all, with four overtures. This 2017 Parisian concert performance is of the first, 1805 version, which (as with 1806), is usually called Leonore to differentiate it from the final 1814 edition. But one has to qualify that slightly, because conductor René Jacobs has firstly produced a new edition of the spoken dialogue that draws on all three versions, plus Jean-Nicolas Bouilly’s French libretto to Léonore, ou L’Amour conjugal (1798) – precursor to Beethoven’s creation. He has also further modernised the language ‘in keeping with the continuing topicality of the piece’.

In addition, following the overture (a thrillingly dramatic account of Leonore No. 2 – associated with the 1805 edition) we begin with Marzelline singing to herself Beethoven’s 1795 song ‘Ich liebe dich’. Later, allowing her to join in the final lines of Rocco’s Gold Aria will irritate some, while encouraging both she and Jaquino to draw on the 1806 edition in the third-act finale is equally idiosyncratic. Why not just do 1805 as it stands? These elements compromise the integrity of a performance that in other respects makes a good case for 1805 as a viable alternative to 1814.

Of the principals only Johannes Weisser’s Don Pizarro disappoints, and even he is strong in the dialogue. Jacobs’s tempos are fast – sometimes a bit skittishly so – and the sublimity one looks for is missing; yet overall this is an exciting account that offers a fresh look at an edition widely perceived to have been superseded by the composer himself.

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George Hall