Friday, February 20, 2009

Audiophile Auditon Reviews Beethoven Recordings

The following review of the Beethoven discs listed below is by Tom Gibbs of Audiophile Audition magazine.

BEETHOVEN: Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7 – The German Chamber Philharmonic, Bremen – Paavo Jarvi, conductor – RCA Red Seal Multichannel SACD 88697-21418-2, 69 min. ***** [Distr. by Sony/BMG]:

BEETHOVEN: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 5 – The German Chamber Philharmonic, Bremen /Paavo Jarvi, conductor – RCA Red Seal Multichannel SACD 88697-33835-2, 55 min. ***** [Distr. by Sony/BMG]:

Whether listening in multichannel or stereo, the sound is superb, and this cycle is definitely one to get excited about.

When Paavo Jarvi in 2004 assumed the position of Artistic Director with the German Chamber Philharmonic of Bremen, he led them to a handful of well-received recordings, but I don’t think anyone could have been prepared for the splash they’ve made with this current cycle of Beethoven symphonies. These two new discs encompass the Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7, and Nos. 1 and 5, and once again, maestro Jarvi and company have just about turned the world of classical music literally on its ears! While the chamber performances here lend a sense of historical accuracy to the proceedings, just about everything else has seriously departed from the normal script this sort of soiree seemingly should follow. Jarvi’s chosen tempi throughout are rapid fire, carrying on right where he left off on the excellent initial offering (Symphonies 3 and 8) in the cycle last year. While the orchestral forces have been seriously pared down compared to the typical (and traditional) big-band approach, there’s none of the tonal shifts or instrumental stridency that regularly accompanies chamber and original instrument approaches to Beethoven. This music is as well-played and full-bodied as it gets, delivering a sound that is much less foreign to our ears than one might at first suspect, but with all the requisite familiarity to please even the staunchest of Beethoven aficionados. Yet at the same time, they’ve accomplished that rarest of feats by delivering an experience that seems infinitely familiar, but at the same time quite new and refreshing!In terms of sound quality, these two new discs are magnificent! As with the original installment last year (Symphonies 3 and 8), production of the recordings was overseen by Polyhymnia personnel, and these two discs highlight all the warmth and incredible detail that are the very hallmark of Polyhymnia productions. As I recalled, I was a bit under whelmed by the sound of that first disc in the series, which seemed a bit dry and perhaps lacking in warmth to me. A quick investigation comparing these three discs was quite revealing. The recordings take place at two different locations scattered across a three year period; one of the symphonies, Number 7, is recorded in two different years, 2004 and 2006! As all the recordings on the two new discs sound superb, I thought it would be interesting to take another listen to the first disc to confirm my original impressions. And while I still feel the original disc lacks the overall warmth displayed by these two new discs, it does contain much of the sonic character evidenced by the newer releases. I listen to a lot of music, and I strongly believe that my home system exhibits certain characteristics that on certain days, everything just clicks, the stars align, and my system sounds incredible. Other days, it sounds great, but just not quite as good as it does on those particular days. Maybe it’s the weather, or something in the atmosphere, but I can’t help but believe that the same thing happens with recording equipment. Even though some of these three discs were recorded within days of each other, and in the same location with the same personnel, they do sound somewhat different, though not markedly so. Don’t let any nitpicking on my part sway you from experiencing these remarkable releases. Whether listening in multichannel or stereo, the sound is superb, and this cycle is definitely one to get excited about. Paavo Jarvi, whose work has on occasion left me less than ecstatic, here makes all the right moves, and proves that he can conduct Beethoven with the very best of them. I’m truly pumped for the remaining symphonies to come. Very highly recommended!

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