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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 October 2013
Since 2003 Jansons has been conductor of the Bavarian Radio symphony Orchestra.He explains his approach in the documentary 'Jansons rehearses Beethoven'-the 3rd Symphony."When you join an orchestra you must know what you want.What is your interpretation;how should the orchestra play and how should it sound. Some people come here and have not answered all the questions. You should not think you know it all and that you are something special. But from the first moment you must know how you want the performance to sound.I hope I inspire the orchestra,and they me.Beethoven transcends the World,beyond our planet".(I think he is refering to the symphonies).

A few members of the orchestra comments on Jansons." He works on many levels, we know what he wants from us,on the other hand there are many emotional states,which we feel 60 or 70 percent.But he does describe it to us, so we can all reach the common goal.But he understands us,for he was once a string player and has a sense of humour.The orchestra respects Jansons for he is friendly and not a despot,is very focused and knows what he wants.But you can always ask questions of him.He is a ball of energy and works himself very hard,but is rarely angry. I think it is because he is in harmony with himself and that carries through to us.The 3rd symphony now is much faster then it was three years ago,then it was slower."(In German with English translation-I think I caught what they meant)

I am not going to compare Jansons Beethoven set with the sets I own, for it would not be fair; such as Toscanini's 9th Symphonies from the 70 Volume box set;Walter; Furtwangler EMI box set and the symphonies recorded during the 2nd World war,especially the 1942 9th and Klemperer's 10 CD box set with some of the symphonies live.Also Norrington;Gardiner-not too happy with it;Harnoncourt with the young Chamber orch of Europe;I like that set;the cheap EMI fast Mackerras set. The other bluray I own, Thielemann with the Vienna Phil, the musical textures are heavier then Jansons, and it is traditional,with at times authentic instrument fast tempo's.I enjoy it very much.But I am a great fan of Thieleman especially when he conducts opera.But if you did not like that set,this is the one for you.The sound is good.However,if you cannot find Audio and chapters with your remote,push the button pop up menu when the music begins,then up pops the details;to turn it off, press that button again.

Jansons tempo's tend to be fast which suits me and the texture of the music is lean not heavy. Sometimes the music almost sings,which may surprise people,who might think he would be on the slow side.If you heard his Brahms No 2 along with his Janacek Mass,you would think otherwise.I made some notes as I was listening to the Beethoven symphonies,which I thought may be of some help in deciding if you wish to buy this set.Eroica,movements fast tempo. 4th: 1st movement Jansons has learnt from the authentic instrument movement,for again his tempo's are quick. 5th: Ist movement is electric,none of the slowness we might associate with it. Just sheer energy radiating from the orchestra. What I like about Jansons is the emotion of the moment passing across his face like Bernstein. He actually feels the music,is involved in it as though it were wrapping him in its embrace.The music and he are one. The Andante is quicker then usual.Beethoven wanted quick tempo's. When I saw and heard the Allegro-Presto, I thought WOW! "Yes this is how Beethoven should be played,like Toscanini". I did a little jig on the floor of my flat. At last a new modern Beethoven set for this period of the 21st century. As an encore Haydn: Serenade from string quartet No 5 orchestrated.

6th: the movements not lingered over,so the point of this symphony is not missed.7th-the test of any Beethoven set is how the conductor approaches the last movement,Allegro con brio. Wagner called this movement, a dance. Here the dancers leap like demented furies of the night.9th symphony:Christiane Karg soprano, Mihoko Fujimura Mezzo. She was Fricka in Wagner's Walkure,Bayreuth orch,Cond Thielemann live 2010. Michael Schade Tenor, Michael Volle Baritone. All four blend in well and are good. The symphony is full of life and energy;the tempo's quick. I did state to those who would listen that the early 1990's Harnoncourt Beethoven symphony set was a great one;that it made me hear Beethoven as if for the first time. This is the same reaction I had with this set. A worthy set for the beginning of the 21st Century.I still feel this after playing it over a number of days.

SOUND: PCM stereo. Dts HD Master Audio 5.0. Subtitles;German,Spanish,French,Italian,Korean(sym 9th Sym) 16.9. REGION World wide. 1080i HD.Bonus documentary only English. Symphonies Recorded LIVE from Suntary Hall,Tokyo,2012.
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on 22 February 2014
In comparison with his earlier Beethoven, it is quite evident that Mariss Jansons has radically re-thought his approach to this symphonic cosmos. The results, captured live in brilliant audio and video (with excellent camera work) in Tokyo’s Suntory Hall in 2012, are magnificent. Jansons combines the best of two worlds in today’s Beethoven interpretation: the transparency, crispness of detail and fleet tempi of the “authentic” school – without the flavor of period instruments which may not be pleasing (yet) to every ear – with the overwhelming “big band” splendor of the “traditionalists”. My benchmarks of cutting-edge readings are Norrington (CD, 2002) and Paavo Järvi (DVD, 2010). Among the recent predominantly traditional recordings, Thielemann (DVD 2010) has many good points. Jansons clearly bridges these extremes, and he does so with outstanding musicianship.

The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, rejuvenated in the past decade or two, rightly uses divided (divisi) violins, and excels both in ensemble and in solo/group work: this is a world-class team of musicians, joyfully in tune with their music director and with each other. They are heard/seen in increasing or decreasing complements, perfectly balanced according to the different demands of each symphony. For example, there are four basses in the First and Second, six in the Eroica and so on. The different sound stages thus remain transparent throughout the set and the respective dynamic shades from ppp to fff are strikingly provided. During some pianissimo parts, you could hear the proverbial pin drop in Suntory Hall.

Both the First and Second are played as genuine Beethoven: the young lion roars in every bar, with sharp rhythmic accents and great detail in the orchestral voices: listen to the various interplays between strings and woodwinds. Jansons, by giving full weight to the early symphonies, contradicts the common mistake of “underplaying” them (Thielemann) and makes them, especially the Second, powerful companion pieces to the Eroica. The latter – listen to the bonus, an intense and revealing rehearsal of Jansons’ “favorite” symphony – is perhaps the best performance I have ever heard of this work. Everything is great, from the graceful yet grandiose first movement through the Marcia Funebre with piercing brass and percussion – the spiritual centerpiece of the symphony – and the martial, brassy Scherzo to the glorious finale, taken fairly fast, but with gravitas and grandeur. Upon repeated listening, I am spellbound from beginning to end.

The Fourth is fleet, but by no means a lightweight, songful with crisp accents – exquisite solos in the woodwinds – and a tender Adagio. Here and in the other symphonies Jansons finds some new details seldom heard before. The final perpetuum mobile is taken very fast, bordering on presto: a virtuosi showpiece for the musicians. The Fifth, again not dragging its feet, highlights the inner voices – listen to the minor key passages in the second movement and some particularly pleasing string cantilenas – and has a breathtaking transition from the eerie pizzicato in the third movement to the unabashed bombast of the finale. In the Sixth, the strings and woodwind figurations shine out again. It is joyful, not plodding and quite triumphant at the end. I find only the second movement – Scene at the Brook – a bit too lovingly slow, but this is a matter of taste.

There is plenty of energy and dance-like spring in the Seventh. Maestro Jansons actually becomes airborne here and elsewhere -- reminiscent of Leonard Bernstein’s heyday -- though he always remains focused on the music. With sharp accents in the first movement, I still wished for a little more power in the brass against the wall of seven basses. The second movement is a gem. The contrast between darkness and light is amazing, lots of tragic undertones emerge, and, surprisingly, this becomes the monumental axis of the symphony. The Scherzo with its chiseled Trio could not be better, and the finale stays in tempo with the third movement. Toward the end, Jansons accelerates and pushes his musicians toward their limits. The Eighth, once again, is no lightweight. Sheer power and elegance are in balance, the brass and timpani rightly prominent. After the graceful middle movements, the Allegro Vivace finale is taken at breakneck speed, leaving the listener breathless.

In the Ninth, we have the full complement of the orchestra joined by the excellent Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks. It becomes clear that this is the cycle’s crowning glory already in the first movement with strident accents in the strings, plangent interjections by the woodwinds and brass, and cataclysmic moments in the recapitulation. There is a strong overtone of pain, and I never heard the final bars equally devastating. The second movement, an eerie presto (taken literally), has a stunning dialog between strings and timpani, only the horns are not quite on the same exalted level. The slow movement has the perfect tempo, it never drags despite the many variations and projects sheer serenity and peace. Surprisingly, Jansons does not pause before he launches into the finale. When the strings, from the basses up to the violins, gradually intone the “Freude” motif, ascending from ppp to fff, you know that this is a highly significant moment for all involved: everything sounds absolutely “right”. The soloists are very good, perhaps not stellar – but who is, given Beethoven’s merciless demands. The final minutes are overwhelming.

My fellow-reviewer S. Swellander is right: there is no “definitive” Beethoven symphonies set, and there never will be. Performance trends are constantly in flux, and so are our own, much more personal perceptions of music. For the foreseeable future, though, Maestro Jansons has given us a set to treasure.
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This obviously fine set was recorded in the Suntory Hall, Tokyo in 2012. The recording was made by a team of Japanese technicians whose technical expertise has fully justified the enormous cost of transporting the orchestra from its homeland. The sheer quality of the visual imaging and the attendant sound quality, presented in DTS-HD 5.1 and stereo, are breathtakingly apparent from the very start and it would be tempting to suggest that this recording has set a new standard by which others will be judged in future. The camera work is of an equivalent standard.

So much for the technical aspects of the recording. This is music however, and there is a great deal more to consider beyond recording quality for this to be successful in such a demanding and competitive market:

The nine symphonies are presented as three on each of the three discs and are played in numerical order. There is an extensive bonus of some 44 minutes, to be found on disc 1, which gives a detailed coverage of the rehearsals spread over three days that led to the performance of the third symphony.

This review will deal with each disc in turn:
Disc 1 - Symphonies 1-3 and the rehearsal feature:

Jansons is clearly aware of recent research regarding likely performing practices of these nine symphonies. This informs his choices of overall tempi and phrasing but has minimal effect on his choice of orchestral size and none on his use of period instruments. Thus his performances of these three symphonies are fleet, as Beethoven intended, and also very steady as regards maintenance of tempi once established. This is important as it enables tension to be created and retained without artificial distortions which would take the performances out of period context. First movement repeats are observed which give proper balance.

The first symphony was Beethoven's symphonic calling card and is the nearest to the Haydn model. However, it is already far more demanding upon the concentration of both the players and audiences in terms of the dramatic content and range. This use of tension fro dramatic effect is very well brought out on this reading but instead of it coming over heavily, Jansons is able to create a clear sense of joy in his interpretation. The relationship with ideas of dance are never far from the surface and very apparent in the final two movements. The Adagio introductions to both the first and last movements are taken particularly briskly.

The second symphony travels further along this dramatic path with more insistent accenting of rhythmic features. The sense of dance is still maintained but the balance is shifted towards more dramatic effects. The orchestra used here is slightly enlarged with more strings, but not so many as to swamp the important woodwind dialogues. The opening movement's introductory adagio molto is taken swiftly with the emphasis thus being on the 'molto' rather than on the adagio. As in the first symphony, this brisk tempo adds to the anticipation as to what is to follow.

The third symphony brings about a considerable change in the scale of musical ideas and their application. I would suggest that it would be beneficial to watch the bonus rehearsal footage before watching the subsequent performance. Jansons is the sort of conductor who takes a very analytical approach to his work and much time is spent on detail, almost bar by bar and orchestral section by section. The Bavarian orchestra seems to respond very positively to this sort of microscopic detail over phrasing, articulation, balance and so on. these rehearsal took three days of the most intense rehearsal time and the results are clearly there to be heard in the subsequent performance.

The symphony, once more, is taken at fleet tempi with little fluctuation. The content of each movement conceived with variations of fundamental character. The first movement, of epic proportion, has a mood of excited anticipation punctuated with biting climaxes that still fall short of being overpowering. The second movement, still at a pace that constantly moves forward, brings a grief-filled tension - that of expectation crushed. This still falls short of being doom-laden as hope is not destroyed. These two movements relate to Beethoven's belief in and eventual disillusionment with Napoleon of course. The scherzo reminds us of the use of dance and the mood lightens and hope is reborn. The final movement, still on the move, is emotionally triumphant as Beethoven's Promethean theme is brought to the fore. Jansons uses a full orchestra for this reading.

This first disc is full of promise therefore and one approaches the next three symphonies in the expectation of more enlightenment and fulfilment.

Disc 2 - Symphonies 4 - 6

These three symphonies form a trio in the context of a review comment and in so far as the element of dancelike joy is now becoming a thing of the past with the increasing emphasis upon structure. These are all relatively heavier readings making use of a full modern orchestral complement. The tempi chosen for the three symphonies is far more in line with regular full modern orchestral speeds and may be partly determined by what is possible with such a large group of players although it is a delight to be able to enjoy so much unforced piccolo highlighting in the final moments of the fifth symphony.

The fourth and fifth symphonies are both tightly played within that more structural concept and these can be safely described as strong and forthright readings extremely well executed. First movement exposition repeats are observed in both symphonies as is the last movement exposition repeat in the fifth symphony. Jansons keeps his tempi consistent throughout and the impact of a full modern orchestra is undeniably impressive. However these readings are a far cry from the altogether more vibrant and almost improvisatory brilliance of the Jurowski performance of the fourth symphony with the exceptionally lithe, extremely dramatic and almost improvisatory brilliance of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Different planets of musical experience between these two therefore.

The sixth symphony is likewise quite a solidly built concept and it would be possible to imagine more sense of joy being created in both outer movements as suggested by their relative sub-titles and also the 'happy gathering of country folk' prior to the thunderstorm which seems more driven than happy. This is partly a matter of tempo and emphasis but also an inevitable consequence of having so many strings whose very lower opulence works against lighter feelings. The storm section itself, almost needless to say, is effective for all the reasons that work against the lighter elements as just mentioned.

Nevertheless these three readings remain eminently satisfying within their chosen full modern orchestra setting. The playing remains outstanding and responsive to all the demands made upon it and those demands remain consistent and convincing. There are none of the non-Classical period distortions that are so questionable in the Thielemann readings with the VPO for example.

The short encore at the end of the fifth symphony, an arrangement for the strings of the serenade movement from Haydn's op 3 /5 quartet, is exquisitely played and a clear example of the distance travelled by Beethoven in his creative journey by this stage. A fine and telling choice of encore to be relished.

Disc 3 - Symphonies 7 - 9

This disc starts off with a very fine delivery of the seventh symphony. Once more this is with full modern orchestra. Structurally the exposition repeats in the last two movements are observed. The tempi of the first two movements are fairly regular and the final bars of the first movement, held at a steady tempo, make for an exciting conclusion with the lower strings providing the required growling bass over which the crescendo builds leading to the concluding high horn figures played powerfully enough to ride above the massed strings.

The same sequence of events is equally successful at the end of the last movement which is kept at a good pace with tight control over the repeated rhythmic string figurations. The orchestral strings do really well throughout the movement as this repeated figure is hard to keep tight as it must be if it is to avoid losing the tension that is intended to develop. The same observations also apply to the first movement but to a lesser degree.

The third movement is also notable for a return to the joyful element which had been most noticeable in the first two symphonies. Jansons slows quite a bit for the trio sections of this movement, something that the period instrument bands would probably moderate. Jurowski is the example once more in his flat out and thrilling performance coupled with the fourth symphony and the Coriolan overture.

This symphony, not surprisingly, gets one of the most spontaneous bursts of audience applause at the end. Very successful in the context of a full modern orchestra and far superior to the mannered Thielemann performance.

The eighth symphony used to be called the 'little' symphony at one time and is unusual by not having a slow movement. It falls between the more dramatic and larger scaled seventh and ninth symphonies and could almost be described as a sort of musical interlude within the overall canon. Jansons reduces the size of the orchestra accordingly and this immediately helps to lighten the overall effect. He adopts a conventional pace for the first movement, a lively pace for the scherzo, and steady pace for the minuet and concludes with a return to a conventional pace for the final movement.

The faster pace in the scherzo particularly reintroduces a lighter touch, almost a sprightly feel and a touch of suggested Beethovian humour. The outer movements, by virtue of the opulent quality of the notably excellent string sections, give more of a trenchant feel to the readings and the last movement ends the symphony powerfully rather than light-heartedly.

This reading of the eighth symphony encompasses an interesting range of emotional feelings. It continues to benefit from steadily maintained tempi without any distortions of pace or phrasing and this is another satisfying reading.

The ninth symphony offers an incisively dramatic reading, particularly of the outer movements. Careful attention to the numerous dynamic markings, phrasing and other details underpins a particularly strong performance and these can be no doubt of the advantages of mustering the full orchestral and choral forces at Janson's disposal to deliver such a reading. The solo quartet is also extremely well matched and the playing of all members of the orchestra is beyond reproach. Once more the general pacing is conventional within the normal range of modern full orchestral performances and it is the scrupulous attention to detail, always made clear, and tight rhythmical control that marks this performance out as being especially noteworthy.

Overall this is arguably the finest set now available in terms of full modern orchestral versions. This is a powerful set and one that makes the most of the structural drama of the symphonies. The playing of the orchestra is second to none and the recording quality is so good as to set a new benchmark of excellence. The bonus feature of the rehearsal sequences is especially illuminating and the sleeve notes are fulsomely informative.
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on 2 May 2014
The Bavarian Radio Symphony (BRS) orchestra has a clear, balanced sound - its woodwind section exceptionally. Under Jansons it is exceptionally good (on this DVD at least).

Jansons' interpretation of each of Beethoven's symphonies would, I believe, have had Ludwig's approval.

The sound recording is very good. The vision recording too is very good, but perhaps the video editing a bit short of 'very good'.

I would recommend this DVD over any of its current competitors.
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on 7 February 2014
So far, I have listened to the Fifth Symphony, on a $60,000 Audio-Video System, in a very large room with an Audience of ~65 People, and I am amazed and delighted with both the Performance and the Undistorted Crystal Clear Audio and Video achieved by the NHK Engineers in Suntory Hall in Tokyo. It is thrilling to see and hear the BRSO Musicians, guided by Mariss Jansons, doing such a fleet footed traversal of the Fifth. Soul-stirring, and a reminder of why "Ta-Ta-Ta-Taaah" is still The Best Known Musical Phrase on the Planet. If the Fifth is so amazing, heard on a truly State of the Art System, can the other Symphonies be far behind?

p.s. Spontaneous riotous applause from the usually reserved Japanese Audience merited a delightful Encore of a Haydn String Quartet Movement played by the whole Orchestra - totally appropriate, and lots of fun!

p.p.s. To the Anonymous Negative Responder: If you didn't find my Review helpful, why not put the reason in a Comment? It reminds me of that old expression: "Casting Pearls Before Swine"

September 22nd, 2014 UPDATE: Symphonies #9, #7 and #3 are just as delightful as #5!! For some reason #8 didn't appeal to me, but then it never has. The Funeral March of #3 is just PERFECT! This Benchmark Production is recommended without reservation...
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