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David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2019

Last month Naxos released Beethoven’s piano arrangement of the ballet, The Creatures of Prometheus, my preference certainly being this orchestral version. In my review I briefly sketched the work’s history from Salvatore Vigano commissioning Beethoven—a most unlikely choice—to write a score for a ballet to be premiered in Vienna in 1801. The original scenario no longer exists, but its basis was the legend of Prometheus being punished by Zeus for the theft of fire which he had then given to mankind. That punishment was being chained to a rock where each day an eagle would peck away his life. The ballet had little success, and when later staged in Milan in 1813, a new composer had been chosen. My review of that piano version pointed the listener towards Michael Halasz conducting the Melbourne Symphony (Naxos 8.553404), unaware of this new release from the Finnish orchestra and their septuagenarian conductor, Leif Segerstam. He will certainly grab your attention with the overture—the only part that has survived in the concert repertoire—his tempo and shaping of phrases being a hugely personal view. From therein we move into a more familiar survey of the score both imaginatively conceived and gorgeously played. Just turn to track 7, a tender Adagio from the second act and enjoy the beautiful bassoon and cello solos. A little further along and Segerstam brings a dignity to the ballet’s most extended section marked Grave. So I could continue to enumerate the performance’s attributes that, quite literally, picture the dancers on stage, not least those items for the famous Italian ballerina, Gaetano Gioia, though Beethoven saved his finest section for Vigano to dance (track 17). The ballet having failed, Beethoven reused the finale in the ‘Eroica’ Symphony. The abundance of inner detail we hear is testimony to this superb orchestra and the outstanding quality of the sound engineering. Most strongly recommended. © 2019 David’s Review Corner

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