This disc was recorded in 1975 by a thirty-year old Michael Tilson Thomas, and hasn't been replaced. It collects rare choral works from Beethoven's late years (1811 to 1824, although sketches for some of these works go as far back as 1797), compositions whose rarity on record and in live performance would easily lead you to think that they are minor in Beethoven's output. Wrong conclusion.
Not all of it is masterpiece - but some of it is. While some numbers of King Stephen are embarrassingly bombastic (like the opening chorus), some others are great, like the second chorus, starting with staccato voices (but this may be a brilliant touch from Tilson Thomas, since I don't see it written in the score). Track 8, the Priestly March, is a magnificient, hushed and brooding adagio, that announces Meeresstille, all the more so as it ends with a jubilant chorus that is the pendant to Glückliche Fahrt. Thereafter Tilson Thomas jumps directly to the final chorus, cutting a relatively large section of the score (8 pages filled with notes) that seems tantalizing on paper. It ends in an irresistible, triumphant chorus.
Meeresstille und Gluckliche Fahrt (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage) is in fact the setting of two independent poems by Goethe. The English title doesn't let you anticipate that the "calm sea" is the dead calm of the sea that becalms the ship. It has inspired Beethoven to some of his most daring, and at the same time most immediately descriptive music. Among the master strokes, there is the way he intersperses the chorus' lines with silences when they sing "keine Luft" (no wind) or "Todesstille" (dead calm), or the big dramatic outburst on "ungeheuern WEITE ("the text translates it as "the vast expanse", but it is more "the monstrous distance").Read more ›