Sunday, December 02, 2007

CD REVIEW: Beethoven Symphonies 3 & 8


December 1, 2007
BEETHOVEN: Symphonies No. 3 and 8 – German Chamber Philharmonic, Bremen – Paavo Jarvi, conductor – Sony/BMG

The historically-informed presentation of these works proves, if anything, that the chamber approach to Beethoven can be both enjoyable and enlightening.
BEETHOVEN: Symphonies No. 3 and 8 – German Chamber Philharmonic, Bremen – Paavo Jarvi, conductor – Sony/BMG Multichannel SACD – 88697-13066-2, 70 mins. ****:


This entertaining and often astonishing disc represents the first offering from a currently in-progress complete cycle of Beethoven Symphonies by the German Chamber Philharmonic, Bremen, and conductor Paavo Jarvi. The historically-informed presentation of these works proves, if anything, that the chamber approach to Beethoven can be both enjoyable and enlightening, and offers a truly valid alternative to the more typical big-band treatment that Beethoven generally is given. If this disc is representative of what’s to come, this cycle will undoubtedly become an instant classic and a necessary supplement to the multiple versions of these works already residing in your collection.Notable in the presentations here are the relatively rapid tempi, especially as compared to more mainstream full orchestra recordings. The Eroica’s second movement, the Marche Funebre, in Karajan’s classic 1963 version on DGG, clocks in at nearly 18 minutes, while Paavo Jarvi traverses the same territory in only 13 minutes. A rather sprightly funeral march – at a tempo much more likely at home in New Orleans than Vienna! However, Jarvi’s reading retains all the requisite magisterial stateliness necessary to any successful performance of this material, and while a chamber symphony simply cannot compete with the big-box orchestras in massed climaxes, they nonetheless managed to instill sufficient bravado and ultimately carry the day. Equally surprising to me were the numerous instances throughout both symphonies where the true “chamber” quality of the orchestra was manifested; smaller assemblages effectively presented whole passages that are traditionally portrayed by massed groups of instruments. Despite multiple playings of this disc over the last few weeks – including multiple repeats of individual movements – I’m still really struck by the sensation of “newness” I’ve experienced hearing this infinitely familiar music; it’s almost like hearing it for the first time!The sound quality is generally first-rate. I do, however, have one slight caveat – the sound is a bit close-up, and the acoustic is a touch dry for my personal tastes. There’s very little sense of the recorded acoustic, and this otherwise excellent disc would have been more well-served by the warmth of a nice church, rather than the somewhat sterile studio environment. Nonetheless, very highly recommended!- Tom Gibbs

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