Monday, July 30, 2007

CD REVIEW: Beethoven Symphonies 3 & 8

24 July, 2007

Another fantastic review!

Beethoven Symphonies 3 & 8

Unbelievable! Just when you thought you'd heard it all, along comes a new Beethoven symphony disc that proves once again that there's no such thing as a definitive performance, and that the music still has more to say than even the most diehard collector has yet heard. The Eroica is probably the most difficult of all the Beethoven symphonies to play and conduct, requiring endless reserves of stamina and a powerful interpretive imagination, and those are exactly the qualities in evidence here. The fact is that we live in a wonderful time if you're a fan of classical-period orchestral music. The authentic-performance-practice movement has convincingly demonstrated the validity of many of its precepts not so much in the number of outstanding performances it has delivered, but by showing how with proper attention to questions of balance, texture, accent, and phrasing, it's possible to improve the overall quality of results. In short, Beethoven's music responds better to this approach.
So take this extremely propitious interpretive paradigm, and add to it the playing of arguably the greatest chamber orchestra in the world, led by a conductor with exciting but always idiomatic and musically apt ideas, and you get a joyous, athletic Beethoven at his very best. The first thing you notice about this swiftly paced, irresistibly urgent Erocia is the exceptional clarity of texture. For example, listen to the woodwinds (bassoons particularly) at the start of the first-movement development section, or in the rugged, minor-key variation at the center of the finale. It's impossible to praise the playing highly enough: the solo oboe in the funeral march is simply magnificent, as are the horns in the trio of the scherzo.
Järvi deserves just as much credit. He creates an incredible amount of tension in the first-movement development's dissonant pile-up, and plays the heroic main theme in the coda as Beethoven scores it, but without any sense of anticlimax. Best of all, he offers the most physically exciting account of the coda since Szell, and no praise can be higher than that.
The Eighth Symphony is equally splendid: in the outer movements especially you just might think you're hearing the music for the very first time. Beethoven's scoring seldom has sounded less clogged, with each layer of texture distinctly audible and in perfect balance. Järvi builds the development section to a positively explosive climax at the moment of recapitulation, but you can actually hear the main theme as it enters in the bass. The second movement is notable for its wit, the chirping winds complemented by violin playing of stunning finesse. Careful observance of Beethoven's dynamics makes the whole thing especially delicious. Järvi captures the mock pomp of the minuet with just the right emphasis at a tempo that never drags, while the finale is simply insane, an unforgettable romp that banishes forever the notion that the Eighth Symphony is in any way slighter or less engaging than its formally larger and more popular predecessor.
The performances are complemented by SACD stereo and surround sonics that have the music leaping from the speakers. On evidence here, this cycle (which Järvi is currently taking on tour) is going to be absolutely stupendous. It's wonderful to see a major label going to bat for it, and it deserves to sell like the latest Harry Potter novel. I don't care if you already own three or four dozen recordings of this music: you really do need this one.

David Hurwitz

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The reviewer is, if anything, understating the case. I've had this recording for nearly a year, and I'm delighted that it finally will be available in the US. This is truly a must-buy. These same forces played these and all the other Beethoven symphonies last weekend in Canada, with even greater effect than on this recording.