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Who would have thought Nikolaus Harnoncourt, that high-priest of authentic-instrument astringency, would evolve into our most humane and nuanced Beethoven conductor? Part academician, part bleeding-heart Romantic, he takes up Furtwängler’s metaphysical quest armed with the rigorous historicism of Norrington and Gardiner. Tempos are fleet, vibrato minimal, and wind lines dominant and as full of personality as characters in a drama. But the conductor’s much-loved period instruments have given way to the warmth and color of modern ones, in the hands of the outstanding, young Chamber Orchestra of Europe. The Harnoncourt/COE collaboration is one of tireless discovery, the mostly twentysomething players urged to revel in Beethoven’s wit and high-stakes emotionalism. Their collective exuberance (so evident in Teldec’s Harnoncourt and Beethoven video documentary and in their recent Carnegie Hall concerts) suffuses their entire Beethoven cycle on Teldec CDs—easily the most imaginative and electric readings of the composer’s work since Bernstein’s recordings of a generation ago. This thrilling new disc of overtures sums up the strengths of the whole series: Listen to the joy in the oboe and bassoon solos, set against the springtime bluster of the full ensemble, in The Ruins of Athens; or the way Coriolan’s opening chords are attacked with lashing intensity at the piece’s opening and movingly drained of life at its conclusion; or the full opera’s worth of dramatic incident the conductor finds in each of the Leonore overtures (the three of them providing a welcome appendix to his revelatory recording of Fidelio). Bristlingly immediate sonics only enhance the work of our generation’s greatest Beethoven interpreter.—Joe Banno