25 Essential Beethoven Recordings: The Choral Fantasy

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Choral Fantasy is a crazy, mixed-up and yet fascinating work, with its lengthy solo piano introduction, its quirky yet sophisticated orchestral writing and its choral finale that served as a warm-up for the last movement of the Ninth Symphony. Typically it’s attached to a recording of one of the composer’s concertos, as is the case in this pairing with the Third Piano Concerto.

The concertos played a central role in Rudolf Serkin’s repertoire for at least half a century. His early 1980s cycle with Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra finds him in particularly great form. Serkin is his usual thoughtful, majestic self in the Choral Fantasy and he’s complemented by the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and a fine array of vocal soloists.

One might quibble about a few details of the performance, but the sound is first-rate, catching the ambiance of Symphony Hall and even the soloist humming along with his piano.

What’s your favorite version of the Choral Fantasy? Tell us and discuss our choices below.

Beethoven: Choral Fantasy
Boston Symphony Orchestra; Rudolf Serkin, piano
Seiji Ozawa, Julien Robbins, John Olvier, Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Lili Chookasian, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Mary Burgess, Faye Robinson, Kenneth Riegel
Telarc
Available at Arkivmusic.com

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Comments [4]

Alan from Long Island

An earlier performance of this work with Mr. Serkin playing with the New York Philharmonic and Westminster Choir, conducted by Leonard Bernstein is, for me, the benchmark for this recording.

Nov. 21 2012 02:25 AM

My old CD with Walter Klein and the St. Louis symphony conducted by Jerzy Semkow is hard to improve upon, but since it is an unusual work I've never heard it played in person. The Saint Louis Symphony chorus is excellent, though, and the engineeering is surprisingly good for such an old recording. I understand it prefigured the 9th symphony in a distant but totally self-evident way.

Nov. 20 2012 12:13 PM
Judith Broy from Massachusetts

I, too, love the "Choral Fantasy" - it is a marvelous work. Years ago, I would put this on the stereo and crank up the sound... when the choral part began, I would sing along with it and from wherever she was in the house, our cat would come running as though to see what the excitement was all about. Then she would climb to any piece of furniture to get as close to my face as she could, to scrutinize my singing. The dogs usually followed, to sit and listen. It's not just people who respond to Beethoven!

Nov. 20 2012 11:05 AM
Les from Miami, Florida

I love the "Choral Fantasy",and I agree almost completely with the reviewer about the work, except for "crazy". I think it's a priceless look into Beethoven's continually searching and practically always unsatisfied mind. I have the same feeling about the Coda of the "Eroica" Symphony starting with the unexpected plunge into D-flat major, and all that follows. The Serkin, Ozawa, and Boston forces performance is one for the ages: I can't think of anything I don't like about it. For my taste, it fits better on a program with tne Ninth Symphony (before it, of course, and then an intermission, if one is obligatory). So that having been said, my favorite performance is the one from the 2 December 1939 concert with Dorfman, Toscanini, the NBC Symphony and the Westminster Choir conducted by John Finley Williamson. It preceded a performance of the Ninth Symphony with Novotna, Thorborg, Peerce, and Moscona as the last movement soloists, again with the Westminster Choir conducted by Williamson.

Nov. 20 2012 09:48 AM

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No composer impacted the course of Western music like Ludwig van Beethoven. The events of his life are the stuff of Romantic legend, his works permeate concert halls and he remains a cultural icon outside of classical music, turning up in movies, TV soundtracks, commercials and pop songs. Throughout November, WQXR celebrates Beethoven's work through concert broadcasts, multimedia projects, marathons and other features.

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