Ludwig van Beethoven
Egmont, Wellington, Military Marches
Gundula Janowitz, soprano
Erich Schellow, spoken voice
Herbert von Karajan, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon, 1987
Although this is not the best version of Egmont and of Wellington’s Victory ever (although the final decision, of course, remains at the discretion of the listener), it is not a recording you can ignore. The album brings together the two works mentioned above and seven military marches by Ludwig van Beethoven, creating a martial atmosphere in which Herbert von Karajan seems perfectly at ease, as you may sense from the fast tempi and the effects he tries to obtain (and obtains) from the orchestra.
The incidental music for Egmont was composed by Beethoven in 1810 for the play by Goethe, who was among the composer’s favourite poets, and is directed by Karajan with great decisiveness and effectiveness and the Overture, which is the most famous piece in the work, is performed with great pathos and with a vividness that will be found without difficulty in the successive movements, of which you can appreciate the lucid and coherent realization. The soprano voice of Gundula Janowitz and the spoken one of Erich Schellow complete the work for a total of three pieces.
The Wellington’s Victory, written to celebrate the English general’s victory in Vitoria in 1813, reminds of the spirit of Egmont, but here prevails a much more appropriate triumphalism, which, in my view, is disturbed by the continuous sound of grenades that are supposed to simulate the fight. I think that this will eventually disturb the listener rather than suggest with verisimilitude the impression of being on the battlefield.
The seven Marches are among the lesser-known compositions by Beethoven, but they are definitely appropriate to the character of the album and are really enjoyable. They are performed by the wind ensemble of the Berliner Philharmoniker, directed by Hans Priem-Bergrath.