- German Dances (12) for orchestra, WoO 8
- Minuets (12) for orchestra, WoO 7
- Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus (The Creatures of Prometheus), ballet, Op. 43
The designs of conductor Thomas Dausgaard's Beethoven recordings on the Simax label are as minimal as his interpretations; this one conveys the needed information in a series of white rectangles on blue background, with only a photo of some clouds to break the graphic silence. Dausgaard and his Swedish Chamber Orchestra Örebro, whose sound he has meticulously sculpted over some years, have been plenty controversial, offering stripped-down readings of Romantic symphonic repertory with their complement of some three dozen players. The chamber orchestra designation should be taken seriously here, for this is low-volume Beethoven indeed. These cautions aside, if you're curious about this latest revision, the works here likely show Dausgaard's approach at its most successful. All are early pieces, not heard much outside of complete Beethoven cycles, and Dausgaard's crisp, startlingly clean lines, with subtle balances between strings and winds, are especially well suited to them. Consider the very seldom heard "12 Minuets, WoO 7," and "12 German Dances, WoO 8." These are not juvenilia; Beethoven wrote these little dances for a grand Viennese party in 1795, just as he was making his first breakthroughs in sonata, quartet, and symphony. They are of a piece with other early short Beethoven works that disrupt traditional forms with abrupt harmonic and dynamic shifts, and they tend to be overwhelmed by a full orchestra. Dausgaard captures their dry humor perfectly. "The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43," was a short ballet Beethoven completed in 1801. The overture is a familiar concert item, but the rest of it is not often played. This is odd in view of the work's obvious significance for Beethoven; the last movement contains a theme reused twice, in the "Variations and fugue for piano in E flat major, Op. 35," and again in the "Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 53 (Eroica)," finale. The rest of the work anticipates the heroic mood of Beethoven's middle period, not least in the harmonically unsettled opening pages of the work, and again Dausgaard is attuned to the dimensions of the music. This is fresh Beethoven, worked out down to small details, and recorded with an ear to what's going on with the performers.