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Beethoven: Symphonies 1-9 [Box set]

John Nelson Audio CD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
Price: £27.17 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Product details

  • Orchestra: Ensemble Orchestral De Paris
  • Conductor: John Nelson
  • Composer: Beethoven
  • Audio CD (19 Dec 2008)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 5
  • Format: Box set
  • Label: Naive Sa
  • ASIN: B000K15U2W
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 112,950 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

1. Symphonies 1-9: 38 tracks on 5 CDs - Ludwig van Beethoven - Ludwig van Beethoven

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
Classical music is puzzling sometimes. Or rather, the world of classical recordings is a curious one. Some recordings seem to garner enormous publicity and renown, while others seem to fly almost completely beneath the radar. Sadly, this does not actually reflect quality. It's a pity that many newcomers to classical are probably steered towards certain recordings by default, despite the fact that the most famous recordings aren't necessarily the best recordings of a given work.

The label a recording is issued on naturally has some bearing on this; something that comes out on Deutsche Grammophon will almost inevitably receive rather more attention than something on a relatively small label is likely to get but, even with this in mind, the discrepancies sometimes seem rather extreme and ultimately inexplicable.

John Nelson's Beethoven symphony cycle, recorded with the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris and released on Ambroisie/Naïve Records in 2008, is a case in point. It seems to be very little known, especially when compared to recordings like Järvi's chamber-sized cycle of the same works on RCA Red Seal, or Chailly's Beethoven recordings for Decca. It's hard to explain this, as Nelson's Missa Solemnis has received plenty of critical acclaim. His Beethoven symphony cycle, on the other hand, has passed many by.

And that, it has to be said, is a real shame, for this is an excellent cycle, with good sound and wonderfully well-judged tempi throughout. They may be a chamber-sized outfit, but the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris never sounds in need of reinforcements, even in the mighty Ninth. In fact, the sound is very well-balanced, neither too thin nor too cluttered, something that can occur with 'big band' recordings.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars John Nelson, EO de Paris: Beethoven 9: Punchy, lifting, chamber orchestra does the Big B. 6 May 2012
By drdanfee - Published on
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
In this complete set of all nine Beethoven symphonies, USA born conductor John Nelson leads the chamber orchestra, Ensemble Orchestral de Paris. His tempos and timings are such, that we get the nine symphonies on five discs in sequence. Disc one starts with symphonies one and two, then we move on from there.

One needs to adjust a tiny bit to the leaner sound of a chamber orchestra in Beethoven, but once the ears adjust, one appreciates gains hard to capture with a larger traditional sized modern orchestra in a more traditional approach. What details? Well, the contrasting departments of the orchestra tend to come through with great nuance, not to mention clarity. Many big band sets make allowances in this area by having engineering that involves closer miking of the instrumental groups, supporting a concern that a listened at home will be able to hear differences or nuances, more clearly.

Right from the get-go, Nelson and the band display flourishing militant and vital musical colors. The sforzando punch is not stinted in the least. The smaller group is able to snap tightly, no matter how many instrumental groups are involved. Strings come across well. Their silkiness may fall just a tad short of (say) either Boston or Munich ... just to mention two comparison sets I had on hand to develop context and contrast. Yet the Paris strings are consistently fleet and nimble, managing runs and phrases at the generally fast tempos with admirable shape. The phrasing has consistent point, so that one can easily hear without fade or fuss where the players begin, and where they are going. Finally, those strings from high to low manage a touch of sweetness from time to time, not just in the slower movements, but in the faster ones as well. Woodwinds are basically clear yet creamy, except when they sparkle in all the right places. A listener will probably need a reading of the Eroica or the fifth to really get the brass at their best show, but in the two early symphonies, the brass do well by not taking over any more than needed to fill and snap, along with the rest of the band. So with the first disc, one is happily at home with Beethoven. The composer is himself. The band is excellent, playing tight beyond all ensemble faults, but very musical.

With disc two we get the formidable combination of the third (Eroica) and the fourth. While the fourth symphony often stands in the larger shadows cast by the path-bursting Eroica, a close listen will reveal that it, too, is a giant step forward in musical and intellectual development of the legacy sonata and symphony forms Beethoven received ... in the ... '...spirit of Mozart from the hands of Haydn' ... as one patron put it. Though by now we assert that Beethoven had his own special grasp of the shapes and opportunities of the musical traditions he received; and I seem to recall that Haydn as his teacher was not particularly impressed with the composer's diligence in following homework assignments without injecting himself too drastically into their execution and final forms. What Beethoven had was an unusual, and unusually intelligent, grasp of musical wholes and their details, all taken together. Combine that mastery of vision or imagination with a deep penchant for working things through until he was himself fairly well satisfied, as the Beethoven sketch and conversation books tend to show us.

Nelson and company start their Eroica off with a nicely snapped couple of opening chords. Beyond the snap, the chords are held just long enough for our ears to hear the dominant opening key (E flat major) and its associated harmonies. Then we launch headlong into the familiar Eroica swinging theme of the first movement. The musical speed would be breakneck, except that an excellent swing rhythm undergirds a compelling range of shape and nuance in phrasing and balances. As is typical of this set of complete symphony readings, the ensemble throughout is stellar. Each band department takes with gusto, charm, heft, and sophisticated intelligence ... to its musical work at hand. The first movement momentum is never for any passing second, in doubt. Yet the refinements of Beethoven's varied statements and restatements of these familiar themes is captured anew, rendered anew, and draws us in anew. Pretty great stuff when playing such a legacy war horse as the third symphony!

With so much 'con brio' tone and detail in the first movement, one suddenly comes to the funeral march of the second movement with doubts and worries. How will the band do given the faster speeds this conductor is taking? Not to worry. Not only are we stepping along gravely at an effectively funereal pace, the shaping of details inside longer phrases is getting the message across, vividly. Enough shadow or darkness gathers that we are observing a dignified, restrained, noble grief; not a hysterical, pull-out-all-the-stops Romantic-psychotic grief. The wind band is able to convey a martial posture in its passing signals, without sounding coarse in a way that would detract from the dignity. Ditto, for the brass. The off-beat preparatory runs in the string basses or other strings which can be such a nimble but blurry trap for many leaders simply cause no ruckus here, but instead enhance the sense of forward motion as well as gesturing a halting tread that the music of this movement can carry so well. The long-breathed horn tunes salute the departed hero, and honor the overt, sad majesty of one human giving up life for others. The transition to the ending statement is tragic yet hopeful.

Next the scherzo sets off at a rather relaxed, congenial seeming pace. Plenty of snap, plenty of brio, but unforced and floating above us, just over our heads. Off-beat hits have a touch of swing about them, all to the good. The horns in the trio are obviously among the early arriving, first friends and neighbors in musical townships that will later include Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream incidental music. After the trio, the scherzo return seems tightened up just a tad, so that the sense of relaxed energy is now changing into more overt forward motion. The final movement of the Eroica sets a crown on all that has gone before. Beethoven's rich imagination and intelligence come artfully to the front as the variations on musical ideas unfold without interrupting the impetus that will lead us to a most sated conclusion in a coda just fast enough to surprise with touches and details. If you have gotten tired of feeling under-nourished by the empty calories of slacker, smoothed out Eroicas, this reading will prove your happy remedy. Bravo, all.

The fourth symphony is its own distinctive musical miracle, too. (Don't read me, just listen. If all that remained of the composer were this fourth, we should still nod our heads in admiration as when hearing again the Sappho fragments. Brahms would be deeply in love with the playful ways Beethoven does main beats against off-beats. The Adagio is exquisitely shaped, including the skipping hip hop hitches in its occasional get-along. Sample this you M*****f***s! The third movement is again relaxed just enough to swing, and rife with detail and irrepressible energy. If you haven't been persuaded by the last movement's conclusion, you ought to have your hearing checked? The whole symphony in fact, seems an abundance of riches as read by Nelson and band, its formal excellence only matched by nearly flawless execution and musicianship. True to itself, the fourth is both beautiful and vital, more than a match for an Eroica with staying power.)

The vitality plus detail that served the Eroica so well come into great play in the fifth symphony, too. All those insistent, familiar motifs are here full of an almost dancing energy, with deep reaches of tectonic harmony spinning around a molten-fire core. One can suffer the work's allegedly surly-obsessive repetition with as little frowning disapproval as one watches a family of deer loping off across the nearby park reserve's hills. Then symphonies six ... seven .... eight. Each one played to a fare-thee-well. Nelson and band do a scrumptious ninth given their framework. Soprano is Guylaine Girard; Alto is Marijana Mijanovic; Tenor is Donald Litaker; and bass is Hao Jiang Tian. Our chorus is Paris Oratorio Choir, led by Jean Sourisse. Each soloist can stand alone, and the four blend well at soft or loud volumes. The chorus masters a great challenge, asked often to sing well at extremes. The fast tempo with a leaner, athletic touch can bring out a bel canto indebtedness in the music that most big band readings simply do not quite match. Given how consistently well played this set is, I wonder that it has passed notice in USA. If this were my only Beethoven set, I could thrive on that proverbial desert island. But, listen, then you decide.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars phenomenal (and not easy to find!) 29 April 2014
By Dabí Sánchez - Published on
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
This is a phenomenally successful set. And it should be noted that the Amazon site has tagged it in a most inadequate way. If I search for John Nelson and Beethoven symphonies, I will not find it. How inconvenient is that, not to have a Beethoven symphony cycle indexed with the name of the conductor?

Anyway, Nelson is a terrific conductor, especially distinguished in Berlioz and other Romantic music, and pretty fine in Mozart, too—but, even so, I was quite unprepared for the excellence of this set. Nelson is a Beethoven interpreter in the "light and fleet" camp, while losing nothing of the music’s dignity or profundity. The performances here are a strikingly effective synthesis of traditional and "authentic" performance traditions; and it's no discredit to Nelson or his marvelous orchestra that decades of experimentation, by all kinds of interpreters, were apparently needed in order to allow this kind of playing to emerge.

On the current scene, Nelson's Beethoven has many resemblances to that of David Zinman, a set of which I'm particularly fond. It also seems to have benefited from an older French tradition--that of the Paris Conservatory Orchestra, which came to an end more than 40 years ago but remains potent in French music. Carl Schuricht, in the 1950s, recorded his superb Beethoven cycle with the Conservatory orchestra; and Nelson's orchestra in this recording, the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris (also unnamed in the Amazon display, and therefore not indexed) displays many virtues of the Conservatory tradition, which dates to the time of Berlioz and other contemporaneous French followers of Beethoven.

In a word, this cycle is the real deal. The sound, the playing and (in the Ninth) the singing are all gloriously good. Also worthy of mention is that the packaging of the five-disc set is notably attractive; exquisitely conceived, very kind to the touch, altogether deluxe. The main thing I have to tell you is: you are lucky to be on this page! So don't leave without a memento. In Beethoven, John Nelson and the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris will not let you down.
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