Tuesday, January 19, 2010

BEETHOVEN: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 6 – German Chamber Philharmonic, Bremen/ Paavo Jarvi – Sony/RCA Red Seal


by Tom Gibbs

Audiophile Audition (http://www.audaud.com/article?ArticleID=6876)

January 18, 2010

BEETHOVEN: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 6 – German Chamber Philharmonic, Bremen/ Paavo Jarvi – Sony/RCA Red Seal Multichannel SACD – 88697-542542, 73 mins.

The fourth installment in this enthralling and impressively compelling cycle of Beethoven Symphonies by Paavo Jarvi and the German Chamber Philharmonic, this entertaining disc again proves that these near-definitive chamber performances are setting a very high bar indeed for historically-informed presentations of these works. This ambitious project has fully affirmed for me that chamber performances of works that are more typically given “big-band” presentations can indeed succeed on just about every artistic level and provide a truly satisfying listening experience. The performances here are staggeringly good; the tempi seem just about perfect, and the caliber of the playing is impeccable, with heart-pounding, visceral dynamics often giving way to moments of breathtakingly beautiful delicacy. This Beethoven cycle is one for the ages, and with only the Ninth remaining, I can’t begin to tell you how impatiently I’m awaiting that disc’s release!

The sound quality of this multichannel SACD disc is positively impressive; I just recently upgraded to a newer generation SACD player, replacing my five-year-old Sony machine, and I have to tell you – I may have misjudged just how exceptionally good the previous three releases in this series are! My overwhelming enjoyment of the current release prompted me to revisit the previous three, and in retrospect, I’d easily give each of those discs the highest possible marks for their amazing sound quality. Whereas I’d previously felt that in certain of the prior three installments, the recorded acoustic seemed perhaps a bit sterile or maybe a touch dry, that dryness was now completely replaced with an almost unbelievable warmth and a much more palpable sense of presence of the individual players. With each of these excellent discs the soundstage is both wide and deep; you get a true sense of the dimensions of the recording space, and it’s easy to close your eyes and place the various groups of instruments within the soundfield.

While listening to Paavo Jarvi’s incredibly good readings of these seminal works, I’ve often reflected on how amazing it is that he’s infused such a sense of newness in these most familiar of symphonies, and his choices – whether that of tempi or orchestration – have never failed to enlighten and entertain. But I also couldn’t help but wonder how the genius that’s so very much in evidence throughout these magnificent discs seems nearly totally lacking on most of his vast recorded output for the Telarc label! Yes, it seems true that (like his father before him) he has a nearly limitless musical knowledge and an impressively vast repertory, but many of his Cincinnati Orchestra Telarc recordings strike me as less than totally idiomatic interpretations – it’s very puzzling indeed.

Equally puzzling is how this disc arrived as an SACD – especially considering that Sony/BMG has essentially abandoned the format! Don’t get me wrong – I’m truly grateful that by whatever means they arrived at the decision to choose to release this excellent disc as an SACD, they did, and the disc offers a veritable clinic on great multichannel sound. But we keep getting mixed signals from Sony/BMG on their support of the SACD format. Especially when you consider that an excellent release like the recent Rachmaninoff disc from Zenph Labs – whose previous releases had all been SACDs – is inexplicably released only as a Red Book CD. Then, surprise – this Beethoven release shows up as an SACD! I can only hope that what little dedication to the format they’ve shown will carry through at least to the final disc of this Beethoven cycle – what a crushing disappointment that would be to get the Ninth as a Red Book-only release! Oh, well, anyway – this disc is very highly recommended! Five stars!

[It's probably an SACD due to the insistence of conductor and performers that it be released as such in the U.S., just the same as in the rest of the world. Several European-sourced SACDs have been available here in a similar way, instead of being converted to standard CD-only by their U.S. label or distributor - as has been frequently done because SACDs haven't previously sold at high enough numbers in the U.S. to please a label's bean-counters...Ed.]

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