Wednesday, October 15, 2008

October 15, 2008
Recordings Roundup: Bremen Beethoven
By Mary Ellyn Hutton
Paavo Järvi: Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. Beethoven, Symphony No.4. Symphony No. 7. RCA Red Seal.
Paavo Järvi: Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. Beethoven, Symphony No. 5. Symphony No. 1. RCA Red Seal.
In a field crowded with Beethoven cycles, Paavo Järvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen continue to produce a product of remarkable quality and distinction.

Symphonies No. 4 and 7 and No. 5 and 1 -- second and third installment of their complete set of Beethoven symphonies for RCA Red Seal -- deserve the same exclamation marks that greeted their inaugural pairing of No. 3 (“Eroica”) and 8 in 2007.
What they all have in common is uncommon precision and virtuosity allied with a vibrancy of spirit not heard, perhaps, since Arturo Toscanini decided to take the composer’s rapid metronome markings seriously in the 1950s.
Of course, most contemporary interpreters and ensembles have followed the Italian maestro’s lead – indeed you would be hard put to find tempos as slow as those influenced by the German late romantic model.
So it is not only that. Neither is it (necessarily) adherence to authentic performance practice, nor are period instruments used.
What Järvi accomplishes with the 40-piece DK (of which he has been artistic director since 2004) is a singular agility and responsiveness, transparent textures, a tradition of informed performance practice and -- what truly sets their work apart -- personality. Their Beethoven is no plaster bust on a mantel, but flesh and bone, a character of passion, wit, deep humanity and keen musical eloquence.
Symphonies No. 4 and 7 afford Järvi and the DK opportunity for one of their most skillful and spirited collaborations. The first movement (Allegro Vivace) of No. 4 demonstrates Järvi’s ability to carve occasional winsome legatos out of crisply articulated passages. The elaborate interweaving of lines in the Adagio is meticulous and extremely beautiful.
No. 7 shows the DK at its virtuosic best -- all spit and polish in the first movement (Vivace), which leads virtually without a break into the Allegretto, an understated funeral march that flows gently in homage to the fallen (the symphony was premiered in Vienna on a benefit concert for war veterans). The lightning-quick Presto is loaded with verve and good fun, with some of the most precisely executed string trills I have ever heard and a rapid, jovial hammer-blow ending. Järvi and his players really push the envelope in the finale (Allegro con brio), a churning, combative movement that loses not one iota of momentum until the tumbling, staccato end.
The iconic Fifth Symphony – premiered 200 years ago in Vienna (1808) -- takes one aback at the outset. The familiar motto is chiseled with urgency, and as the drama unfolds, Järvi keeps the attention focused with piquant details and vivid dynamic touches. The Andante con moto moves right along, and is shaped with the utmost grace and elegance. The scherzo (Allegro) offers mystery with its uncertain opening, staunch horn theme, rambunctious Trio and final dissolution into timorous, seemingly aimless fragments before soaring into the jubilant finale (Allegro). It is a magnificent conclusion, with huge orchestral surges, whistling strings and piccolo and a good-humored rendition of Beethoven’s protracted (tongue-in-cheek?) ending.
The Symphony No. 1 is as bright and polished as a new penny, from the bubbly Allegro con brio and perky Andante to the finale (Allegro molto e vivace). Again, dynamic contrasts are well-defined, with lots of sforzato (sharp accents) and timpani flourishes. Järvi has fun near the end of the finale where the music seems to be going in all directions at once.

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