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Paul L Althouse
American Record Guide, September 2012

The Choral Fantasy…is a persuasive performance, nicely shaped and controlled by the conductor. A good recording…of two of Beethoven’s second-tier pieces. Special thanks to Wetton, a strong advocate of these seldom-heard works. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide online



Nalen Anthoni
Gramophone, September 2012

All strive in this performance…impelled by the conducting of Hilary Davan Wetton, who has a comprehensive grasp of the score. From grandeur to contemplation, the mix of many elements is persuasively interpreted…well worth experiencing…the Choral Fantasia is striking Beethoven. Leon McCawley plays the 26-bar solo introduction with a sense of ad-lib abandon, coruscating in the hailstorm of notes at its fortissimo climax. And he maintains throughout a feel for the improvisatory quality of the part…a very good performance… © 2012 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone



David A. McConnell
MusicWeb International, July 2012

This new recording offers up a genuine Beethoven rarity, his Der glorreiche Augenblick (The Glorious Moment), coupled with the Choral Fantasia.

…Beethoven created a work with finely wrought, interesting music that deserves to be better known.

It begins with a great choral outburst, the choir proclaiming “Europe stands!” The homophonic texture soon gives way to a fugue that, in turn, leads into another fugue—an interesting precursor of the final section of the “Gloria” in the Missa Solemnis) A recitative follows with the joyful mood of the chorus instantly softened to tranquility by the cello soloist’s lovely arch of melody; beautifully played here by Ben Highes. The bass calls the people together to witness the “imperial mantle” returning. A tenor arioso follows, surely one of Beethoven’s most gorgeous melodies, swiftly moving into a chorus extolling the glories of Vienna. This builds to a powerful climax, the different sections of the choir wildly proclaiming “Vienna! Vienna!” accompanied by whooping horns. The following recitative and aria sound positively Mozartian as the soprano praises the Sovereigns gathering together, encouraging them to unify and rebuild Europe. The aria then develops into a constantly shifting dialogue between the soprano, chorus and violin solo, moving from moments of peaceful beauty to vigorous—read contrapuntal—celebration. The mezzo-soprano enters, exhorting the peoples of Europe to “kneel down, people, and pray first to Him who has delivered you.” Beethoven responds with achingly beautiful music that evokes a prayerful atmosphere. Finally, the soloists join in thanking God for their recent victory. Beethoven then has the different sections of the choir gradually enter: first the women, then the children’s choir, and finally the men, everyone finally together. They are accompanied by a full orchestra that includes the Turkish instrumentation of the Ninth Symphony. An overwhelming fugal climax arrives as all sing “Vienna, hail and good fortune! World, your great moment!”

This is a richly scored, powerfully affecting score. I can imagine certain passages faster, sung with greater fervor…an excellent performance of music that should be better known.

The Choral Fantasia suffers from no such neglect, though it too, has its unique hybrid form which has certainly been the subject of criticism. Its many sections and transitions can all too easily be allowed to sound like disjointed patchwork. Wetton and his forces have created an organic whole, one passage flowing into another with absolute naturalness, in a masterly performance. Leon McCawley’s opening piano solo conveys a wonderful sense of improvisatory freedom. Beethoven did not have the piano part written out in time for the premiere, so he simply improvised the beginning section on the spot. The variations for the piano and orchestra are played with drive and elegance in turn, featuring consistently lovely solo work from the orchestra. McCawley dispatches Beethoven’s difficult piano writing with aplomb and with the entrance of the voices the energy begins a build-up that leads to an overwhelming climax for the final bars.

The soloists are generally impressive…The choirs are consistently excellent and they make light of Beethoven’s demanding vocal writing. The playing of the Royal Philharmonic is first-rate in every way, revealing an adoption of historically informed performance practice. Hilary Davan Wetton’s enthusiasm and love for both works is obvious, and, along with Naxos, he deserves special kudos for recording this Beethoven rarity. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review




Misha Donat
BBC Music Magazine, July 2012

With first-rate recorded sound, the disc is strongly recommended. © 2012 BBC Music Magazine



James Norris
Audiophilia, June 2012

Davan-Wetton conducts a glowing account and the singing of both the City of London Choir and the Westminster Boys Choir is exemplary. The soloists, too, are in fine form and the RPO plays with panache and poise.

The Choral Fantasia is much better known and gives us a chance to appreciate Leon McCawley who shapes the solo piano part with style and receives strong support from Choir and Orchestra. © 2012 Audiophilia Read complete review



Paul Corfield Godfrey
MusicWeb International, June 2012

The soloists are all absolutely superb. Claire Rutter barnstorms her way through her aria—which features a starry contribution from Clio Gould in the obbligato violin solo. Peter Hoare and Stephen Gadd…do what they are given very well. The four voices combine very happily in the quartet which precedes the final chorus. The combined choirs in that final chorus really whip up a storm accompanied by a battery of ‘Turkish’ percussion which in some ways anticipates the similar passage in the final movement of the Choral Symphony. The orchestra under the energetic baton of Hilary Davan Wetton really sound as if they enjoy discovering this music…

The Choral Fantasia is a much more familiar work, and has been frequently employed as a ‘fill-up’ when an additional Beethoven work is needed to complete collections of the piano concertos as well as various choral works. It is…a worthwhile piece in its own right, and the performance here is pretty good without being overblown. Leon McCawley does everything he can with the opening for solo piano…

In summary, the work for which the listener should hear this CD is the almost totally unknown cantata—Beethoven at his mature best. Congratulations are due to Naxos for including both text and translation in the insert booklet…The recording quality is absolutely superb even in the tricky balances of the Choral Fantasia, well balanced and clear in the Royal Philharmonic’s own concert hall. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review



Infodad.com, June 2012

The work…is an elaborate occasional piece, the occasion being the gathering of Europe’s royal rulers in Vienna to attempt to return life to the way it was before the upstart Corsican rattled all the crowned heads…Cast as a cantata featuring singers in the roles of Vienna (the city), Seherin (a prophetess), Genius, and “Leader of the People,” Der glorreiche Augenblick includes parts for solo cello (Ben Hughes) and violin (Clio Gould), plus a final choral section for boys’ choir. It is a big work, elaborate throughout…Hilary Davan Wetton, a fine choral conductor, plays things straight—the only real way to handle them here—in a performance that is suitably serious, affirmative, and as uplifting as it was intended to be…The Choral Fantasia…is very well done. Wetton conducts it well, Leon McCawley handles the piano part with aplomb, and the chorus sings with enthusiasm—and kudos, many kudos, to Naxos for providing the full text and translation of all the words for both pieces on this disc. Any listener interested in exploring some surprising nooks and crannies of Beethoven’s output will find this CD fascinating from start to finish. © 2012 Infodad.com Read complete review



Chris Hathaway
Classical 91.7 KUHA, June 2012

There are even echoes of the first version of Fidelio in this music—notably the violin and cello obbligati which decorate an aria with chorus, calling to mind a duet for two sopranos which Beethoven excised from the opera. There is a real martial thrill in the dotted rhythms of the concluding choral proclamation Heil Vienna, dir und Glück! / Stolze Roma, trete zurück! (Hail Vienna, fortune and joy! Step back, proud Rome!).

This is one of the most exciting and gratifying Beethoven recordings this reviewer has come across in recent years. Davan Wetton…enters more than fully into the spirit of the music. Bass-baritone Stephen Gadd is…stellar; indeed, all the soloists are first-rate. The choral diction and overall sound are outstanding throughout, and the boys’ choir puts its own stamp on the piece as well.

The Choral Fantasy is no less effective, no less ingratiating. Pianist Leon McCawley…captures the improvisatory nature of the writing as few pianists have done. His long trills…all dynamic levels, especially in various shades of piano, are electrifying. The two soloists within the chorus, Ms. Fortunals-Simmons and Mr. Davies…are a captivatingly effective semi-chorus to the larger group. Together, they sound like more than just two people…the City of London Choir delivers faultlessly, both in terms of musicality and German diction. This is potentially one of the year’s best recordings. © 2012 Classical 91.7 KUHA Read complete review



MaestroSteve
Cinemusical, May 2012

Most fascinating in…[Der glorreiche Augenblick, Op. 126]…is the melding together of Beethoven’s own style within this somewhat archaic musical form. Throughout are many gorgeous solos for violin and cello. What is most wonderful is that the music has a real joy and forward motion that engages its listener from the very beginning.

The performance here by the RPO and its cadre of soloists is really about the best the work is likely to get on disc for quite a while…the recording does a great job of imaging the chorus against the orchestra and wind and brass seem to be fairly well balanced…The recording has a good crisp sound with just the proper amount of ambience to warm the performance. With all the fugal entries, it is truly amazing that one can fairly easily follow these lines as the textures get more complicated. The music is certainly designed to get one up cheering by the exciting conclusion and this committed performance certainly succeeds at creating that atmosphere.

This reviewer had the opportunity to perform the Choral Fantasia, Op. 80, last year. The piece begins with a lengthy piano solo before the large orchestra comes in, albeit briefly…It is but one of the many surprises of the piece which features moments that highlight a string quartet, piano quartet wind quintet, and more…the fantasia allows for a great overview of most of the orchestral players with plenty of solos for winds and brass or at least some well exposed moments where they can demonstrate their balance within the total ensemble. The fact that the recording must balance these larger and smaller forces is no doubt a challenge, but it is handled wonderfully. The RPO is no stranger to Beethoven, and yet there is a freshness and energy in this and the previous performance that zips the work along. Leon McCawley…brings a real understanding to the work’s wavering between genres of chamber and large-scale style in ways that help match the interpretation of the orchestral and choral entries. © 2012 Cinemusical Read complete review



David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2012

Of Beethoven’s works from his mature years, the cantata, Der glorreiche Augenblick (The Glorious Moment) remains one of his most seldom performed. Lasting not much longer than half an hour, it is difficult to programme in concerts when the size of forces required are quite large. Its rather trite text by Aloys Weissenbach was a further deterrent, for its praise of the kings and princes of Europe after the defeat of Napoleon may have been ideal for its first performance, but had little value afterwards. Joseph Karl Bernard’s revision makes it less personal and more in praise of Europe, yet it remains patriotic tub-thumping akin to a grossly extended Rule Britannia. Strip away these thoughts, and you are left with a score that, if not inspired, is at least a piece of Beethovian craftsmanship, with large choral passages surrounding recitatives and arias for a quartet of soloist. It does, however, sit quite comfortably beside the Choral Fantasia, a work that saw its premiere five years earlier in 1808. Opening with a long piano passage that can be viewed as the composer improvising at the keyboard, it is the highly pleasing choral section that has rather ruined the work’s chances of success, as the music so strongly resembles the finale of the Ninth Symphony where it is more successfully developed. Throughout the City of London Choir sing as if their lives depend upon it, while the solo quartet contain very familiar faces on the UK oratorio circuit, the baritone, Stephen Gadd, in superb voice, while Claire Rutter does wonders with her improbably role as the voice of Vienna. Leon McCawley, an outstanding exponent of Beethoven, makes out a good case for the Fantasia, and Hilary Davan Wetton directs a Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in fine form playing in the rewarding acoustics of the Cadogan Hall, their London home. © 2012 David’s Review Corner






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