Thursday, January 20, 2011

Järvi: BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 on RCA

Fanfare - The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors

Departments - Want List
Written by Christopher Abbot
Tuesday, 28 December 2010

My Want List this year could have been devoted entirely to recordings conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas; three new DVDs were added to his Keeping Score video series, and CD soundtracks for all of the programs also became available. To top it off, the MTT/San Francisco Symphony Mahler symphony cycle was concluded with a truly monumental performance of the Eighth Symphony. Since I needed to include a few other deserving discs, the Ives program will have to stand in for the others and for the soundtracks—the CD that complements this DVD includes not only the Ives Holidays but also the relatively rare theater orchestra version of the complete Appalachian Spring ballet from an earlier program.

In this, the sesquicentennial of Mahler’s birth, it behooves us to look back five decades to the centennial and the dawn of the Mahler renaissance. I’m sure that, even in their wildest dreams, the pioneers of Mahler appreciation would not have believed that cycles of the Mahler symphonies would become more common than those of Beethoven. Yet, even in these fraught times for the record business, there are several CD cycles in progress. MTT and the SFSO will wrap up their comprehensive traversal of Mahler’s work with the release of the orchestral songs in 2011; their cycle could well become the standard by which to judge all others, past and future.

Tilson Thomas somehow transcended the already high standard established by the earlier installments of his Mahler symphony series and produced an instant classic in his recording of the Eighth (to be sure, he was assisted by his superb orchestra, choruses, and soloists, as well as the outstanding audio production team headed by Andreas Neubronner). This luminous recording now takes its place among the handful of truly indispensible performances of Mahler’s Eighth. There is so much that is clarified, even in the stereo mix, that anyone wishing to hear this music—to really hear it—should simply start here. Lest I forget, MTT gives us a taste of what might have been with an Adagio movement from the 10th that cries out for a complete performance.

Speaking of symphony cycles, Paavo Järvi completed his set of the Beethoven symphonies, appropriately enough, with the Ninth. His Beethoven is spirited and lean, yet Järvi’s isn’t a doctrinaire cycle in the manner of Norrington; period-instrument adherents will find much to praise, but there is plenty here to please all but the staunchest traditionalist. The excellent German Chamber Philharmonic (Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen) and RCA’s splendid sound production assist Järvi in the fulfillment of his vision.

Alan Gilbert’s Mahler Ninth was the surprise of the year for me. I knew, of course, that Gilbert was the newly designated music director of the New York Philharmonic, and I greatly enjoyed their televised opening concert; but that was my first encounter with Gilbert’s work, so the masterly Ninth featuring his former orchestra was something of a revelation. I sincerely hope that future NYPO Mahler concerts will be released on CD (there’s a Third available for download already), or that BIS will record more Mahler with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and its conductor laureate.

I don’t regularly review Prokofiev discs, but our editor graciously indulged my request for the Gergiev Romeo CD, and I was happy to praise its many felicities. Prokofiev’s symphonies are an uneven lot, but this ballet score shows his unparalleled lyrical gift on a comparably expansive orchestral canvas. Gergiev, a Prokofiev specialist, produced a performance of sparkling wit, muscle, and nuance.

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