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Beethoven: Symphonies 1 & 5 - Järvi

Beethoven: Symphonies 1 & 5 - Järvi

RCA  88697338352, BVCC-34166

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Beethoven: Symphony No 1, Symphony No. 5

Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen
Paavo Järvi (conductor)

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Review by John Miller - September 24, 2009

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 HRAudio.net

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Comments (4)
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Comment by hiredfox - August 30, 2018 (1 of 4)

A few years have passed since this survey was launched to some acclaim on SA-CD, if anything time has improved my perception of just how good these performance are. We are working our way through the symphonies in numerical order, last night it was the turn of the 8th and all being well the mighty 9th will round off proceedings over the weekend.

They are not all good but which survey ever has been? That is why collectors who are happy to have just a single version of a symphony should not settle for one complete survey but pick and choose from the many versions available even on SA-CD depending upon their own particular tastes.

Paavo Jarvi is not everyone's favourite conductor and it is fair to say he has recorded his fair share of turkeys in earlier days especially for Telarc but his more recent work with this ensemble and the NHK in Tokyo has been of particular merit, with performances that have been consistently bright, lively and emphatic and which bring genuine new insights into how these works might be interpreted.

In the Beethoven series he excels with the 3rd and 8th especially whilst the DSD recordings by Everett Porter of Polyhymnia are almost peerless in offering the listener a seat in Row 8 of the stalls of a live performance with so much refined detail on offer. Everett seems to concentrate more on the RCO recordings these days but there is little doubt that he is one of the very best SA-CD recording engineers out there, certainly on a par with the Sound Mirror team.

A survey really not to have been missed and arguably the best available of the modern recording cycles on SA-CD. If you don't have them in your collection my advice would be not to leave it too late.

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - August 30, 2018 (2 of 4)

Agreed, John, this survey tops my list. Best played, best recorded.

Comment by hiredfox - September 4, 2018 (3 of 4)

Of course having heaped praise on this survey, I was bound to be brought back down to earth with a bump. This version of the 9th is dreadfully unrewarding and frankly more than a little tedious; the very famous adagio considered by many to be the most movingly romantic piece of classical music ever written passes by almost insignificantly, no emotion, no character and certainly not the tears and neck bristling that von Karajan elicited from his legendary 1976/7 performance. Back in the day live performance of this masterpiece were somewhat of an ordeal for a young man in an era when boys didn't shed tears!

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - September 8, 2018 (4 of 4)

Not so triste, John. Read the comments on amazon.com. Some love it, some don’t. Beethoven was a classical and not a romantic composer. But as you said: any survey has its ups and downs.