While everyone was supposed to be thinking thoughts of Schubert, in observance of the 150th anniversary of that composer's death, Quintessence, in a single release, brought out 10 records of Beethoven's orchestral, chamber-music and piano works, including all seven of his mature concertos. Curiously, no major work of Beethoven has appeared on this reissue label before (and there is still none by Schubert); the omission has been corrected rather grandly, not only in terms of instant quantity, but with a selsctivity that has brought us some real gems.
The most treasurable item here is the justly celebrated 1971 recording of the Archduke Trio by the Suk Trio of Prague (PMC-7082). The distinguished Czech ensemble rerecorded the archduke in 1975, in sessions taped digitally by Denon and quadraphonically by Supraphon; the earlier verrsion, which has circulated here on various lavels from time to time, strikes me as a slightly more persuasive performance, and it has never sounded better than in this handsome remastering. It is a stunning value, and the cassette edition (P4C-7082) would have to qualify as the most "basic" chamber music recording yet issued in that format.
The Suk Trio is heard again in the Triple Concerto, a much more recent recording with the Czech Philharmonic under Kurt Masur (PMC-7077; cassette P4C-7077). This warm-hearted work has been recorded by numerous (all-star" teams, most notably by David Oistrakh, Mstislay Rostropovich and Sviatoslay Richter with Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic (Angel S-36727), but there have been only two previous recordings by regularly established trios -- a now deleted Angel disc by the Oistrakh Trio with Sir Malcolm Sargent conducting and a recent Philips (9500.382) by the Beaux Arts Trio with Haitink and the London Philhaumonic. I have always felt that this is not so much a work for three soloists as actually for a trio with orchestra, combining chamber music with symphonic music, and I like the different sort of sura given off by performances so conceived. Since the Suk Trio brings all the elegance and full integration of its Archduke performance to this one the Triple Concerto, and Kurt Masur provides the most convincing leadership, this is now my choice among all recordings of the work, irrespective of price. The sound is firstrate.
The five piano concertos are played by Claudio Arrau with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Alceo Galliera (PMC/P4C-7071 through 7075); these EMI recordings, formerly available on Angel, were made a decade earlier than Arrau's Philips set of the concertos with Haitink, but are just about as impressive. The Fourth is in mono, but the others are stereo, and the overtures Coriolan, Leonore No. 3., Egmont and Prometheurs , respectively, played by the Berlin Philharmonic under Rudolf Kempe, serve as fillers on the first four discs. Even at the $3.98 list price, there is strong competition from such pianists as Solomon, Katchen and Casadesus, but if the overtures are more attractive than the fillers (or lack of fillers) on the competing discs, or if cassettes are preferred, these are safe bets.
Henryk Szeryng's mid-'60s recording of the Violin Concerto, with Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, sounds better on PMC-7076 than it did on domestic Philips, but the performance, emphasizing the work's lyricism (which hardly needs emphasis) is, for all its elegance, rather on the sleepy side. (The liner notes were picked up from a Boston Symphony program book, in which Michael Steinberg worte of the cademzas: "Most violinists nowadays use Joachim or Kreisler, but for this concert Joseph Silverstein has composed new ones...." In the recording, which has nothing to do with Silverstein or any concert, Szeryng plays the Kreisler cadenzes.) Josef Suk, of the aforementioned trio, offers one of the very best versions of this work at the same price as Quintessence, wich Sir Adrian Boult and the New Philhamonia (Vanguard Everyman SRV-363SD), and the additional cost of the recently reissued Grumiaux/Galliera (Philips Festivo 6570.775), in the same class, is offset by the inclusion of Beethoven's two romances.
Eugen Jochum and the Bavarian Radio Orchestra are heard in the Fifth Symphony and the Fidelio Overture on PMC/P4C-7078. This was the first of Jochum's three such couplings with as many different orchestras on as many different labels (Deutsche Grammophon in this case), and it is surely the finest low-priced stereo Fifth, though Erich Kleiber's classic mono recording with the Concertgebouw Orchestra (London R23232) is the most compelling of all.
On PMC/P4C-7081 are Wilhelm Kempff's mono recordings, also from DG, of the Piano Sonatas Nos. 8 (Pathetique), 14 (Moonlight), 24, and 26 (Les Adieux ). These are probably more interesting performances than Kempff's subsequent stereo remakes, and the sound stands up quite well: a satisfying package, and worth the money.