Larry VanDeSande Reply to on 3 July 2012
|Ludwig van Beethoven's (1770-1827) early canata Der Glorrieche Augenblick, or the Glorious Moment, celebrates Vienna and victory over Napoleon in a choral-orchestral setting only the giant Beethoven could have created. While not among his greater compositions, it is clear from the third movement, a soprano solo with choral accompaniment and a violin obbligato, that this was the composer that would later write the titanic Missa Solemnis, one of the most towering choral works extant and the most inspiring mass in the classical literature.
Even though this carries a late opus number, 136, this is the middle period Beethoven stretching his wings. This composition was premiered in Vienna 1813 but wasn't published until 1837, allegedly due to Beethoven's question over its artistic value. It was accompanied at the premiere by another Beethoven piece given bad press all its life, Wellington's Victory, which celebrates the same military victory.
In six movements for solo quartet, chorus, children's choir and orchestra, The Glorious Moment tells the story of victory in battle and Vienna's glory. The solo soprano sings the role of Vienna in the piece. The current recording was organized during the 2008 season of the Guildford Choral Society under the choir's musical director, Hilary Davan Wetton. It was recorded in two concerts during 2009. They have chosen Beethoven's Choral Fantasy to accompany the work on CD, which I believe a mistake. A youthful piece from 1808, the piano-choral concoction is sometimes considered a predecessor to the finale of the "Choral" Ninth Symphony.
There are four sometimes avialable recordings of this work. While some of the others can be had as downloads or as part of much larger boxes of Beethoven's work, this becomes the only regularly available single disk version. Recorded in recent years, it has wonderful digital sound, fine packaging, full notes, documentation and vocal scores in English and, of course, arrives at Naxos's discount price. This makes it the best buy for anyone coming new to the music.
However, for the listener wanting more, the other recordings have assets that transcend this one. The version conducted by Myung-Whun Chung in vol. 19 of DG's Complete Beethoven Edition has more heroic singing, a far more Germanic approach, and is equally well recorded. The version from Brilliant's Beethoven box, conducted by Diego Fasolis, is better recorded than the others, almost in your face, has more heroic singing than this one, and has more driven orchestral playing. The cutout version from the Orchestra of St. Luke's (New York) was recorded in Carnegie Hall in concert and has the excitement of a live event. While somewhat muddy sounding, it features the outstanding bel canto soprano of Deborah Voight, a better singer than anyone in this version and is far more exciting than this one.
Compared to the others, the Naxos is lightweight compared to the heroic approach of the American forces under Bass and Beethoven lite compared to the German forces under Chung. Intrepid Internet searchers can find a way to hear the Bass-Voight version free via Instant Encore. What I like most about that one, aside from Voight's gloriously heroic heroine, is the sidekick -- Beethoven's youthful Cantata on the Accession of Emperor Leopold II, WoO 88, written when he was 18. I think this makes a much better accompaniment to The Glorious Moment than the episodic Choral Fantasy which, to me, is to Beethoven choral music what his Triple Concerto is to the piano and violin concertos.
Having stated all my preferences, I will restate that this new recording, which is being hailed in the United Kingdom as the first recording by an English(wo)man, gives you everything you need to know about this music in modern sound, using a world class orchestra with fine professional soloists, and is the only single disk version generally available. I find Beethoven's heroism largely vacant from the sound stage but you may feel differently. I also don't care much for the Choral Fantasy and would never have bought that on its own. Had this recording been linked to any other orchestral-choral piece of Beethoven's, or even Wellington's Victory, I may have scored it higher.
As it is, of the choices available in the marketplace, I'd first recommend the Fasolis recording if it were avialable individually. The DG version under Chung can be downloaded but his direction is occasionally intemperate and impatient. The Bass-led version is even harder to find but has the best conception and pairing on CD although the sound isn't ideal. Until the Fasolis is available on its own or a better performance arrives, I'll be happy to stick with Bass. This one is OK and a good introduction to the music but it is far from what it can be under better direction.