Beethoven: Symphonies 3 & 8 - Paavo Järvi
RCA 88697006552, BVCC-34139
Classical - Orchestral
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 "Eroica", Symphony No. 8
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen
Paavo Järvi (conductor)
Review by John Miller - September 28, 2009
Many music lovers think that they know the story of the 1803 Eroica Symphony's genesis, with Beethoven's previous near-adoration of Napoleon Bonaparte being dashed by the Emperor's self-coronation in the Vatican. The composer allegedly tore off the title page of the manuscript and stamped it into the floor. However, it was not generally appreciated that Beethoven had written this symphony for Bonaparte until Wegeler and Ries published their Biographische Notizen in 1838, which included the anecdote about the title page. There were a number of autographs and fair copies around at the time, one of which shows heavy crossing out of an original dedication, but the final autograph score is lost. Beethoven's friends also had recollections of his confidences about the Eroica's origin, but these are contradictory.
Speculation is still rife amongst scholars about the work's origins, as there are only fragments of forensic facts to work with. Time-lines are ignored or discounted - noted Beethoven expert Peter' Schleuning in his notes for this disc repeats his conviction that the "Great Man" whose memory is being celebrated in Beethoven's final published title was Prince Louis Ferdinand, Prince of Prussia. The Prince was indeed killed in a skirmish against against the French in 1806 - yet he was very much alive when Beethoven was writing the Eroica in 1802-3. More than half a dozen potential candidates for this historical 'post' have been proposed already by historians, and no doubt more will follow.
This farrago of academic speculation means little when confronted with the force and radical nature of the music itself. The Eroica was amongst the first of Beethoven's stated "new directions" of composition immediately after his desperate crisis on realising the extent of his deafness, in which he was near suicide. He went so far as to write a will (the heart-rending Heiligenstadt Testament). Järvi and his phenomenal players of the modern instrument Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen remove the encrustations of ages from the Eroica and the 8th Symphony with their HIP approach, use of the New Beethoven Edition score and adherence to Beethoven's own metronome markings. We are presented with readings of vision and fidelity to the now-revealed articulation and dynamics which Beethoven used, and these give a feeling of almost hearing the work for the first time.
We might also note that the rehearsals and first private performances, some in Prince Lobkovitz's Palace, took place with small orchestras in rooms about the size of a large (C18th) dining room. Convictions that it requires a full modern symphony orchestra iare misplaced. The 40 or so players of the DKB are ideal, especially in their balance of winds and horns with strings, which follows the contemporary practice.
Immediately one is aware of the differences compared to many traditional performances; the two whiplash E flat major chords which peremptorily open the work are given their rightful staccatissimo markings and compel our immediate attention. There is much more staccato passage work of various degrees, and more detached playing than the usual continuous legato lines with vibrato, as Beethoven's own slurs are now respected. Timpani sound like military drums and not only underpin rhythm but play melodically; sudden sforzandos are given their full due, as are Beethoven's many hair-pin crescendi, and the rhythmic impetus is always organic rather than metronomic. In the second variation of the Finale, Järvi uses a string quartet (as indicated by several sources contributing to Jonathan Del Mar's Urtext edition), which gives a delightful textural effect.
The Eroica's famous Funeral March is taken at a real march tempo, and although stripped of non-essentials, glows with marvellous warmth (and a superlative oboe soloist), as richly as from a larger symphony orchestra. There is no change in tempo for the Maggiore, yet its hope for the future has sweet balm and consolation, and the succeeding fugue draws out anguish in a stern and stark ritualised form with implacable depth of tone, stretching tension almost to breaking point. The March's sorrowing Coda leaves us softly in the darkness of grief. Järvi's sure handling and the players' concentration in this movement alone are outstanding.
The finale reveals itself as a tour de force of light and shade, tension and relaxation, of Beethoven's supreme confidence in his own creative spirit. The DKB's virtuoso playing is even finer than the remarkable period instrument performance in Jos van Immerseel's recent Anima Eterna cycle (RBCD, Zig-Zag Territories). This Bremen Eroica fully explores the originality of this post-Heligenstadt symphony in its revolutionary formal stretching of the classical symphony's bounds, and demonstrates the new intensity of expression which informs Beethoven's subsequent musical development.
The Järvi Beethoven Project refurbishment also extends to the 8th Symphony, Beethoven's own favourite which he endearingly referred to as "my little symphony". Järvi explores its classical roots and the overlays of Beethoven's eccentric and knock-about humour with a breadth of humanity and musicality which this marvellous work fully deserves.
All the comic devices are relished in the first movement's sweep, with the left and right divided strings swapping parts of the rhetoric with pin-point precision. The 2nd movement's Allegro scherzando used to be considered as a tribute to Maelzel's metronome, but this is now shown to be a spurious story inserted into Beethoven's conversation book by his woefully unreliable secretary, Anton Schindler. Surely we all recognise the composer's bow towards Haydn's Clock Symphony in its tick-tock theme. It gets a delightful tongue-in-cheek performance, with precisely-placed rhythmic off-setting and a comic bassoon soloist.
The Minuet picks up this ticking tune, even passing it to the timpani, enriching Beethoven's richly scored satirical parody of a grand courtly dance. The trio is also mocking, with a syrupy trio of horns pitted against a comically clumsy accompaniment by a pair of cellos playing an amateurish running set of triplets. The 8th's Finale starts with staccato textures delicately played as if from a Mendelssohn fairy movement - until the orchestra rudely bursts in with knock-about interplay between its rival sections, positively fizzing with energy.
Summarising, the team of Järvi and his talented young chamber orchestra players evoke Beethoven's wilful and often irascible (but lovable) polemics and character like few before them. The Eroica is fully charged and brilliantly executed. It joins the ranks of élite performances, together with an 8th Symphony whose real stature is newly revealed and celebrated. The Polyhymnia International engineers provide an immediate and fully transparent recording, with a measured amount of ambience, despite two locations being involved. Both stereo and multichannel versions sound superb, and immerse the listener convincingly in these stunning interpretations.
Copyright © 2009 John Miller and HRAudio.net