Album Review: Best Beethoven 50

Best Beethoven 50, by various artists

It is sometimes fascinating to ponder best of and greatest hits compilations for classical artists [1], and this three-disk compilation provides an interesting picture of what Warner Classic believes is the best material of Ludwig von Beethoven’s oeuvre.  I have to say that listening to this material, the people choosing the songs did a good job.  Between these three disks of material that is close to four hours of classical music overall, someone who was taking a survey course in classical music and wanted to get a feel for Beethoven without listening to his music in its entirety would get a sense of what it is like.  To be sure, had this collection been cut to only a single disk, it would have featured a lot more cases for people to argue about what was not included, but as it is the selection is ample and broad to include a great many of Beethoven’s works, some of which are in their entirety ad some of which are not.  I would have liked more, but many people will be satisfied by this album as it is since it is already a pretty substantial collection of songs.

This particular collection is divided into three cds, each of about 80 minutes or so in length.  The first two albums contain fifteen tracks apiece, and the last album 20 smaller numbers.  The first cd includes material from Symphony #1 (1), #2 (2), #3 (3-4), #4 (5), #5 (6), #6 (7), #7 (9-11), #8 (12-13), as well as the Ode to Joy from Symphony #9 (15).  In addition to these there are also selections from the Egmont Overture (8) and the Turkish March (14).  The second disk then includes selections from the Violin Concerto (1-2), Piano Concerto’s #1 (3) and #2 (4), the Violin Romance #1 (5), the Triple Concerto (6), the Piano Concerto #4 (7) and #5 (8-10).  There are also elections from the Piano Sonata #8 ‘Pathetique’ (11-12), the Moonlight Sonata (13), Fur Elise (14), and the Piano Sonata #17 ‘Tempest’ (15).  The third disk then contains the ‘Waldstein’ Piano Sonata #21 (1), the ‘Hammerklavier’ Piano Sonata #29 (2), a couple of selections from the Diabelli Variations (3-4), selections from the ‘Spring” Violin Sonata #5 (5-6), the ‘Kruetzer’ Violin Sonata #9 (7-8), the Cello Sonata #3 (9), the String Quartet Op. 18 #4 (10), the Serenade for Flute, Violin, & Viola (11), the ‘Razumovsky’ String Quartet Op. 59 #1 (12), the ‘Archduke’ Piano Trio #7 (13), Ich Liebe Dich (14), some Irish folk songs (15), a selection from the Missa Solemnis (16), and a few selections from the Fidelio (17-20).  Overall the songs are played by a diverse group of musicians with a high degree of skill and are mixed very well also.

One thing this album does demonstrate when it comes to concert music is that there is a substantial difference in selecting the best songs of most pop artists and doing so for those artists for whom works have a higher degree of ambition and cohesion.  The fact that the author can only include small selections of Beethoven’s nine symphonies, for example, means that the listener loses the whole scope of such works (the same is true for Fidelio).  For those artists whose ambitions include thematically organized larger works, there is something lost in selecting excerpts from that and something to be gained by appreciating the longer works in their entirety.  Even so, this compilation is easy to enjoy and the playing (and occasional singing) is of a high level.  If you want something pleasant to listen to in the car and do not want too demanding of an experience in terms of appreciating classical music and want the good stuff with no “filler,” this album will certainly do the trick.  It is a classical best of that is easy to recommend and contains a lot of vitally important songs within the classical repertoire, and that is always something to appreciate.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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