Saturday, October 25, 2008

CD REVIEW: Beethoven Symphonies 3, 4, 7, 8

Paavo Järvi, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, still being released.
This is in second place mostly because it’s still in progress, with only Symphonies 3, 8, 4 and 7 released in North America; and partly because the interpretations are a little quirky. I think it might be best to listen to something a bit more canonical and then you can hear how outside-the-box these Järvi interpretations are.
What characterizes these versions is the band: small, tight, quicksilver, able to move from a whisper to a roar and (maybe just a bit too) eager to make sure you know it. (Here’s a
video about the orchestra.) I saw Järvi conduct in Paris, but he wasn’t conducting these guys and it really wasn’t the same. I’m going to be following this set of Beethoven symphonies as it’s released, because both CDs so far have forced a rethink of the pieces. Accents pop out, tempo changes are defined with a razor blade, and what’s most striking is that there’s only a few players on each instrument, so you can hear Beethoven’s orchestrations with real clarity. To my amateur ears, what Beethoven had that a lot of others didn’t was a real genius for orchestration: when he puts the flutes on top or gives them a secondary role, when he has the horns or the trombones punch out their line while other instruments hold back, it defines the character of a passage. That’s way harder to explain than it is to hear on these tremendously exciting performances.

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