July 2006

Beethoven - Complete Overtures
Tonhalle Orchestra, Zurich, David Zinman conductor
Arte Nova 578310
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

The budget-priced Arte Nova label has been in and out of general circulation in the US for some time, but this situation has been happily resolved by a new arrangement with the Portland, Oregon-based Allegro Corporation. Though Sony/BMG continues to distribute some of the Arte Nova titles on its own, a greater share now goes to Allegro, and new projects are being undertaken jointly. David Zinman’s cycle of the Beethoven symphonies with the Tonhalle Orchestra of Zurich is still circulated as a boxed set by Sony/BMG, while the five individual CDs, in attractive repackaging, are distributed by Allegro, which also has the Beethoven piano concertos, with Yefim Bronfman as Zinman’s soloist. Conversely, Allegro now has Zinman’s seven-disc set of Strauss tone poems, while Sony/BMG has the individual CDs. This spring, Zinman and the Tonhalle Orchestra, which he has built into one of the finest ensembles in Europe, began recording a Mahler cycle for Arte Nova/Allegro. The Third Symphony, as heard in Zurich in April, suggests this will be a major addition to the composer’s discography as well as to Zinman’s own.

Meanwhile, this two-CD set of all 11 Beethoven overtures -- Prometheus, Coriolan, Egmont, Consecration of the House, Ruins of Athens, King Stephan, Namensfeier, and the four for Fidelio (including Leonore Nos. 1-3) -- packs the sort of power and freshness that distinguished Zinman’s set of the symphonies. Leonore No. 2 comes off as an unsuspected masterwork here. If there is a disappointment anywhere, it is certainly not with the performance itself, but with the sonic focus of the fanfare at the climax of the introductory section of The Consecration of the House. One does want those gleaming trumpets and rumbustious drums more in the picture, but the bassoon sound is certainly a plus, and the set overall is definitely a winner -- as it would be even at full price.