Beethoven: Symphonies 2 & 6 - Järvi
RCA 88697542542, BVCC-34178
Classical - Orchestral
Beethoven: Symphony No 2, Symphony No. 6 "Pastoral"
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen
Paavo Järvi (conductor)
Review by John Miller - September 25, 2009
Some performances of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony have such an ample measure of smiling benevolence in their first two movements that a listener is in danger of being lulled to sleep. Not so with Paavo Järvi and his youthfully enthusiastic Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. Use of Bärenreiter's new Urtext edition corrects corrupt older versions and reveals Beethoven's careful gradations of staccato, articulation and phrasing. The DKB's modern instrument chamber orchestra (with a string configuration of 8,7,5,5,3) has phenomenally taut ensemble, near perfect tuning and a similar balance of winds and strings to the typical orchestra of Beethoven's day. Together with an immediate and transparent recording, the score is opened up as rarely before, with tempi following Beethoven's metronome marks of 1817.
The first movement's portrayal of a joyful walk in the countryside has filigree textures, ranging from murmurs of the utmost delicacy to robust surges of ebullience. A mostly vibrato-less playing style of the strings' opening melody (probably derived from an old Czech folk-song) emphasises its simplicity, yet the lines are imbued with subtle and heartfelt nuances. Rustic textures formed from string, horn and woodwind interplay reflect the listener's progress through an ever-changing rural scene and are completely absorbing.
Adding a piccolo, trombones and timpani to the Symphony's classical orchestra for the fourth movement only, Beethoven's recreation of a brief storm is as effective as Vänskä's with a full symphony orchestra, only with much more internal detail, supreme control over mounting tension and a positively terrifying fusillade of whiplash strokes on the drums. These sound much as Beethoven's military drums would have, with taut skins and hard wooden sticks. The stormy interlude's passage into returning sunlight and peasants celebration is managed superbly. A rich glow of warm, saturated tone emanates from the violas and cellos, joining a truly rustic resinous contribution from the basses, who are heard more clearly and cleanly than in full orchestral versions. The final paean of joy surges like an unstoppable river.
Without doubt this is a most memorable Pastoral, to be placed with the best, including Gardiner's terrific period version from his OAE cycle on RBCD. Vänskä's Pastoral (also using the new Urtext) is splendid too, and put beside Järvi he is several degrees more romantic and softer-edged (musically - the recording is superb, although somewhat more distant), as if Nature was visited in reminiscence more than reality. Listeners can make their choice.
The Second Symphony, placed second on the disc, is one of Beethoven's most challenging and forward-looking symphonies. This is all the more surprising because it was written in 1802 at a time of extreme personal crisis, when the composer finally had to admit to himself the harsh reality and permanence of his deafness. Järvi's players seize it and make it flare with Beethoven's eccentric energy. They relish the outrageous key changes inflicted upon us in the slow opening, then launch truly 'con brio' into the classically based Allegro, braving all its rhythmic wrong-footings and explosive dynamic contrasts with a rhythmic spring and life force which is breathtaking - as is the clarity of their articulation. The collision of all players into a joyfully shocking dissonance a few bars from the end, and its emphatic resolution into D major has rarely been done so convincingly.
Lightness of touch and flowing tempi mark the lovely slow movement, yet still Beethoven's rhythmic and dynamic eruptions betray his inner state of mind, so a form of escape is found in the knockabout Scherzo, comically off-beat but ultimately disruptive. The last movement is a tour-de-force of instrumental playing; its bizarrely fragmented motif hurled into the swiftly flowing mêlée of a mischievous romp; the timpanist superbly precise in marking off-beats and syncopations. Beethoven fools us with a series of set-up false endings which must have astonished and frustrated his audiences, and a stellar performance of this marvellous symphony finally comes to an end.
Add a wonderfully focussed wide-stage recording, grace it with discreet hall ambience, gather some stimulating booklet notes from Peter Schleuning and you have the recipe for another unmissable instalment of the Sony-RCA Beethoven cycle at Bremen.
Copyright © 2009 John Miller and HRAudio.net