Beethoven: Incidental Music to Egmont, Op. 84; March No. 1 in F, Wo0 18 (Yorck’scher Marsch); March No. 2 in F, Wo0 19; Scena and Aria: Ah! perfido, Op. 65

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Incidental Music to Egmont, Op. 84; March No. 1 in F, Wo0 18 (Yorck’scher Marsch); March No. 2 in F, Wo0 19; Scena and Aria: Ah! perfido, Op. 65
PERFORMER: Madeleine Pierard (soprano), Claus Obalski (narrator); New Zealand SO/James Judd
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557264

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The Overture to Egmont is one of Beethoven’s most popular orchestral pieces, and rightly so. It presents, in less than ten minutes, a compressed and overwhelming drama – of which one doesn’t need to know the details.

What is rarely played is the rest of the music he composed for Goethe’s play, and on this disc we have that, comprising several entr’actes and other brief orchestral pieces, and two short songs for the heroine.

The last orchestral contribution is a reprise of the coda of the Overture, and shows how immensely superior that is to any of the others. Beethoven seems not to have had his imagination ignited by writing these short insertions, and the melodrama, in which a narrator alternates with orchestral phrases, is embarrassingly inept.

James Judd is an admirable conductor, but it is clear that the orchestra is not first-rate, the brass showing to poor effect in contrast to the strings, though that may be partly due to the cramped acoustic.

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Madeleine Pierard, the soprano soloist, also sings the great scena ‘Ah! Perfido’, but her voice is too shrill for this magnificent denunciation, which needs a Maria Callas or Kirsten Flagstad. Her contributions to Egmont are better, but there the music is trite. Naxos is to be commended on providing the texts in German and English. Michael Tanner