The name Norman Del Mar will be instantly recognisable to concert goers in the 1970s and 80s. He was a former Chief Conductor of the BBC Scottish Orchestra as well as appearing with all the regional orchestras and also conducting the Last Night of the Proms on TV in the late 70s.
He also wrote a very fine biography of composer Richard Strauss and was an authority on his music and it is interesting to note that his son Jonathan Del Mar has been hailed for his new editions of the Beethoven Symphonies. These are quite revelatory in restoring notes and markings previously ignored by Beethoven’s publishers in the 19th century.
It appears that once Beethoven had sold his manuscripts to whichever publisher offered the highest fee he seldom bothered to check the proofs, and if he did, his comments were often ignored by the publishing house. As such, the plates used over the last 200 years contain a multitude of errors.
Claudio Abbado was the first major conductor to start using Del Mar’s editions and the results can be heard on his Beethoven recordings with the Berlin Philharmonic recorded in the late 90s.
However, it is the Australian conductor Sir Charles Mackerras who has grabbed the initiative with both hands and not only given us the new versions but also performed them at Beethoven’s original metronome markings.
It is another old wives tale that Beethoven’s metronome was faulty and that his actual speeds indicated are not what he meant.
The first recording featuring the correct tempo speeds was the 9th Symphony recorded in Liverpool with the RLPO and Choir featuring Bryn Terfel as the baritone soloist, and what a revelation it is. This is a finely played, taut performance in which all the tempo changes are followed scrupulously particularly in the choral finale and reveal a masterpiece even more splendid than the sometimes slow versions we have been fed for the last century.
But, more goodies are to come, Mackerras went on to record all the symphonies with the Liverpool Philharmonic over the last decade and the results are very impressive.
My favourites include the 6th Symphony known as the “Pastoral “ which flows like the brook Beethoven tries to describe in the music of the second movement.
The 8th Symphony is driven on at a fast pace and several passages have been restored for the bassoon which until now I had never heard and give the work even more character.
The set of Symphonies is now available as a boxed set and can be bought for a bargain price of around $20 if you hunt around on the internet. Altogether, a great bargain and for anyone new to Beethoven’s finest compositions, a real must have.