Site review by Geohominid September 23, 2009
Performance: Sonics (S/MC): /
|There is plenty of choice amongst the rival Beethoven cycles on SACD, some of which are still in progress. Three of them explicitly use the New Beethoven Edition edited by Jonathan del Mar (Järvi, Vänska & Antonini), and this has prompted conductors to re-assess their interpretations of the symphonies. As well as correcting earlier corrupt texts, the new edition reveals Beethoven's clear but idiosyncratic practise in notating staccatos of various degree, as well as his version of the Viennese style of indicating phrasing and articulation. When carefully adopted and executed, these changes are often audible and bring a fresh "new" sound to standard Beethoven interpretations.
Paavo Järvi has played these symphonies with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen for several years before committing them to disc. The chamber orchestra is a self-governing and democratic band, and they worked on the Bremen Beethoven Project collaboratively, developing approaches and interpretations as a team.
Järvi strongly believes that Beethoven's metronome marks are correct, and perfectly playable with smaller orchestras, which also have the advantage of restoring the Classical balance between woodwind, brass and strings. He adopts certain HIP practices with the modern instruments - sparing vibrato for strings, older methods of brass playing, and the use of drums which are close to the military drums of Beethoven's time, hit with hard sticks. Beethoven's use of the timpani was very innovative and of vital importance in the propulsive rhythms which are so characteristic of his style. Järvi also takes the position that Beethoven's symphonies are Classical at their core, overlaid by his own interpretation of the growing Romantic movement. Järvi and the Bremen band take all this into consideration, and add their own personal touches to the bare notes, so that one often has the ear tickled by a counter-melody or special phrasing, bringing new light and life to the scores.
The Fifth Symphony comes first on this disc, and a fiery and rebellious Fifth it is. The first movement's peremptory motto erupts like a Call to Arms, and the movement only relaxes for the lyrical second subject, but with almost no change in pace. Järvi takes only 6:54 in this movement, compared to Vänska's 7:32, the latter several degrees less in tension and bite. The DKB play as if possessed; their articulation and taut ensemble work is nothing less than astonishing. Disposition of the first and second violins to left and right give full rein to Beethoven's many antiphonal effects. The 46-strong orchestra (triple winds) produce a dynamic range and depth of tone which is deeply satisfying, but with a transparency of internal balancing which opens up the orchestration in a way that is seldom heard. Beethoven's tympani parts are realised magnificently, reinforcing the rhythms and storming the bastions as rarely before.
The Finale is launched with a great blaze of joy and light, run at Beethoven's metronome mark which engenders playing of such virtuosic energy that any audience would be on its feet as the last C major chord sounds. This is a Fifth which compares well with the best, and the DKB's athletic playing even outdoes the VPO on Kleiber's remarkable performance from the 70's. Vänska too is very good, but his larger-scaled Fifth is more majestic than rebelliously driven.
With an appropriately smaller orchestra, Järvi's classical view of the First Symphony provides a real gem of a reading; an expansive opening followed by an exuberant and dance-like first movement which positively sparkles. At Beethoven's required speed, the Andante cantabile skips along blithely into a rude menuet/scherzo of boundless nervous energy, and the symphony is capped by a finale which, having coyly exposed its scale-theme bit by bit, scampers off in fast staccato to do joyful mischief. Orchestra and conductor are clearly having real fun, and this First is an absolute winner.
Polyhymnia's recording is as fine as one would expect from this experienced company; closer than usual, with superb spatial definition of instruments and an open acoustic, all the better in multi-channel.
Unless you are wedded to Furtwängler and his Romantic view of Beethoven (including heavily doctored re-scoring and alteration of dynamics), do audition this wonderful disc.
Copyright © 2009 John Miller and SA-CD.net
Review by georgeflanagin March 13, 2009 (11 of 11 found this review helpful)
Performance: Sonics (S):
Another worthy release in this series. As with the 4&7 and 3&8 discs, more is revealed in the lesser known symphonies. The sound is close and well defined. Good Fifth, but buy it for the standard setting First.
- the performances
- the sound
Sym #5: I suppose we unconsciously rate new performances of this most commonly recorded of symphonies with our personal benchmark standard. I want to be reminded that Beethoven was not yet 40 years old and on the cusp of "middle age" when I hear this symphony performed. My favorite has been the Carlos Kleiber VPO recording from the 1970s. Jarvi stacks up well enough in the first movement: no so much duration on the fermatas as some, but he doesn't turn it into Haydn either.
Movement two is fine, but it is not the core of this work. Movement three provides a steady buildup to tension for the glorious 1-3-5 triad that opens the finale. Like Kleiber three decades ago, Jarvi has the measure of this symphony, placing the weight in the last movement's driving for a finish.
Jarvi's finale is the new threat to my insurance rates. When the Kleiber performance was first issued on CD, I recall listening to it for the first time in my car as I drove from SFO airport at dusk on a summer evening. As the finale pounded along, I drove faster and faster on a nearly empty I-280, and wound up missing the Santa Cruz exit. Jarvi has the requisite momentum to encourage speeding.
Sym #1: This is the crown jewel, displacing my previous favorite, the Simon Rattle VPO performance of a couple of year back on EMI. The symphony opens with the chords that do not belong at the beginning of any piece of music, and Jarvi gives us that feeling that we walked in on a symphony already underway by opening a door to the concert hall. He gives us a minute to find our seats, and then we cut loose.
The Andante that follows is like chamber music in its moments of intimacy, with the orchestral color restlessly seething in anticipation of the third and fourth movements. Jarvi succeeds in making the opening of the finale seem alien and out of place. At the end of the movement, the listener is convinced the Age of Beethoven has begun.
In an earlier review for sa-cd.net, Mark Wagner described 4&7 as having superb sound, and this disc has good sound, too. I think the microphones have been moved for this recording, and there is less hall sound. I would describe the sound as so transparent and free of reverberation that this 5&1 disc would be good for teaching the score.
The strings are 8-7-5-5-3 for both symphonies, and the sound of the 'cellos and double basses is unusually close. Sym #1 is a grueling workout for Stefan Rapp (what a great name!), the timpanist, and each drum stroke is heard with in-the-room clarity.
Listeners with rooms that are more live than my room may not notice the "dead" sound of the recording space. There is a welcome freedom from background noise, and I did not notice any glaring edits.
At the price, it is worth it for Symphony #1, even if your personal collection has six or more #5s.
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