- With solid Double Plus (A++) grades or close to them on both sides, this is an outstanding find from our recent shootout
- The texture on the strings is captured perfectly – this is an area in which modern pressings fail almost completely
- Everything sounds so right on this record, so much like live music, there is almost nothing to say about the sound other than You Are There
- Recorded in Geneva’s exquisite Victoria Hall in 1959, this is a top performance from Ansermet and the Suisse Romande, the best we know of
In our opinion this is the best sounding Beethoven 6th Symphony ever recorded. It is the most beautiful of them all, and has long been my personal favorite of the nine Beethoven composed.
Ansermet’s performance is clearly definitive to my ear as well. The gorgeous hall the Suisse Romande recorded in was possibly the best recording venue of its day, possibly of all time; more amazing sounding recordings were made there than any other hall we know of. There is a richness to the sound that exceeds all others, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least. It’s as wide, deep and three-dimensional as any, which is of course all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the weight and power of the brass and the timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.
Everything sounds so right on this record, so much like live music, there is practically nothing to say about the sound other than You Are There.
This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. None of them, I repeat none of them, will ever begin to sound the way this record sounds. Quality record production is a lost art, and it’s been lost for a very long time.
The texture on the strings is captured perfectly; this is, by the way, an area in which modern pressings fail almost completely. We have discussed this subject extensively on the site. The “rosin on the horsehair” is a sound that is apparently impossible to encode on modern vinyl.
What the Best Sides of This Wonderful Symphony Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1959
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.
Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.
Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.
The best pressings from the Readers Digest set with Leibowitz conducting were very good but no match for Ansermet and the legendary Orchestre De La Suisse Romande and the lovely Victoria Hall in which they recorded.
We have liked Monteux on RCA for the 6th in the past. We do not believe the best pressings are competitive with this London.
The ’60s Decca/London cycle with Schmidt-Isserstedt and the Vienna Phil has always sounded flat and modern to us on every pressing we’ve played.
Production and Engineering
James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions from October of 1959 in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. Released in 1960, it’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.
The hall the Suisse Romande recorded in was possibly the best recording venue of its day, perhaps of all time. More amazing sounding recordings were made there than in any other hall we know of. There is a solidity and richness to the sound that goes beyond all the other recordings we have played, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.
It’s as wide, deep and three-dimensional as any, which is, of course, all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the weight and power of the brass, combined with the timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.
What We’re Listening For on Beethoven’s Sixth
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”) In F Major
1st Mov.: Allegro Ma Non Troppo (Awakening Of Happy Feelings On Arriving In The Country)
2nd Mov.: Andante E Molto Mosso (By The Brook)
Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”) In F Major (continued)
3rd Mov.: Allegro (Peasants Merrymaking)
4th Mov.: Allegro (The Storm)
5th Mov.: Allegretto (Shepherd’s Hymn: Thanksgiving After The Storm)
Overture – Prometheus
Beethoven was a lover of nature who spent a great deal of his time on walks in the country. He frequently left Vienna to work in rural locales.
The first sketches of the Pastoral Symphony appeared in 1802. It was composed simultaneously with Beethoven’s more famous—and more fiery—Fifth Symphony. Both symphonies were premiered in a long and under-rehearsed concert in the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, on 22 December 1808. The work has become one of the central works of the symphonic repertoire. It is frequently performed, and has been often recorded.
The composer said, the Sixth Symphony is “more the expression of feeling than painting”, a point underlined by the title of the first movement (“Awakening of cheerful feelings…”).
Description of movements
I. Allegro ma non troppo
The symphony begins with a placid and cheerful movement depicting the composer’s feelings as he arrives in the country. The work is in sonata form, and its motifs are extensively developed. At several points Beethoven builds up orchestral texture by multiple repetitions of very short motifs. Yvonne Frindle commented, “the infinite repetition of pattern in nature [is] conveyed through rhythmic cells, its immensity through sustained pure harmonies.”
II. Andante molto mosso
This movement, titled by Beethoven “By the brook,” is held to be one of Beethoven’s most beautiful and serene compositions. It is in a 12/8 meter and the key is B flat major, the subdominant of the main key of the work, and is in sonata form.
At the opening the strings play a motif that clearly imitates flowing water. The cello section is divided, with just two players playing the flowing-water notes on muted instruments, with the remaining cellos playing mostly pizzicato notes together with the double basses.
Toward the end of the movement, in the coda that begins at measure 124, there is a cadenza for three woodwind instruments that imitates bird calls at measure 130. Beethoven helpfully identified the bird species in the score: nightingale (flute), quail (oboe), and cuckoo (clarinet).
This is a scherzo, which depicts country folk dancing and reveling. It is in F major, returning to the main key of the symphony.
The form of the movement is an altered version of the usual form for scherzi, in that the trio appears twice rather than just once, and the third appearance of the scherzo theme is truncated. Perhaps to accommodate this rather spacious arrangement, Beethoven did not mark the usual internal repeats of the scherzo and the trio. Theodor Adorno identifies this scherzo as the model for the scherzos by Anton Bruckner.
At one point in the movement Beethoven uses a melody that sounds vaguely like a quotation from the folk song “Zu Lauterbach”.
The final return of Scherzo conveys a riotous atmosphere with a faster tempo. The movement ends abruptly, leading without a pause into the fourth movement.
The fourth movement, in F minor, depicts a violent thunderstorm with painstaking realism, building from just a few drops of rain to a great climax with thunder, lightning, high winds, and sheets of rain. The storm eventually passes, with an occasional peal of thunder still heard in the distance. There is a seamless transition into the final movement.
This movement parallels Mozart’s procedure in his String Quintet in G minor K. 516 of (1787), which likewise prefaces a serene final movement with a long, emotionally stormy introduction.
The finale is in F major and is in 6/8 time. The movement is written in sonata rondo form, meaning that the main theme appears in the tonic key at the beginning of the development as well as the exposition and the recapitulation. Like many classical finales, this movement emphasizes a symmetrical eight-bar theme, in this case representing the shepherds’ song of thanksgiving. The mood throughout is unmistakably joyful.
The coda, which Antony Hopkins has called “arguably the finest music of the whole symphony,” starts quietly and gradually builds to an ecstatic culmination for the full orchestra (minus “storm instruments”), with the first violins playing very rapid triplet tremolo at the top of their range. There follows a fervent passage suggestive of prayer, marked by Beethoven “pianissimo, sotto voce”; most conductors slow the tempo for this passage. After a brief period of afterglow, the work ends with two emphatic F major chords.