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Unfussy, beautiful and powerful by turns, these superbly recorded performances now top the charts for modern cycles,
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This review is from: Beethoven: Symphonies and Reflections [Mariss Jansons, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra] [BR Klassik:900119] (Audio CD)
2 years on from set of these symphonies by Thielemann and the VPO the virtues of which I extolled in my review comes a new set by one of the pre-eminent conductors of this era and played by one of the greatest orchestras before the listening public not just today, but at any time.
Any conductor presenting such a set is on a hiding to nothing-there will inevitably be comparisons with recordings by the likes of Furtwangler and Toscanini and in the modern era, Karajan (times 4), Klemperer, Schmidt-Isserstedt, Cluytens, Haitink, Rattle, Abbado, Chailly, Harnoncourt and Bohm to name but a smattering and that's without straying into HIP territory (which I would only do if I fell through the back of the wardrobe!).
The reaction to this set will depend on what the listener expects from recordings of these often performed symphonies-if you are looking for revelatory performances which uncover new and challenging aspects of these works then this set will not be to your taste.
If you are happy for the recordings to be revelatory of the genius of Beethoven, and not to emerge as "Karajan's Beethoven", "Klemperer's Beethoven" or whoever's-but rather "Beethoven's Beethoven" then you will enjoy these performances as much as I have.
The recordings were made throughout 2012 at a series of concerts in the Herkulessaal in Munich, and in the majority of cases, the renowned Suntory Hall in Tokyo (only 3 &6 are from Munich). There is very little difference in the acoustics captured from each venue, and a "spot the difference" exercise would be really difficult.
The "extras", to which I will return, were all recorded separately in Munich in different years.
In my review of the Thielemann set, my main comparison was with the highly regarded set by Chailly earlier in 2012 in which Chailly used a smaller orchestra of modern instruments but adopted tempi near to Beethoven's own metronome markings with breathtaking-and breathless- results.
Thielemann's much broader approach was more to my taste, though even my eyebrows were raised at the grand and imperious Seventh which was stately but not lively.
Jansons is nearer to the approach of Chailly-note that I say nearer, not near-for his tempi are in general swifter, his rhythms more sprightly, and the works are propelled with more momentum than by Thielemann.
Jansons is a highly regarded interpreter of Haydn, and so the first 2 symphonies sparkle and dance most affectingly. The 3rd is powerful and dramatic with the most beautiful playing since Karajan-the Horn Trio brings tears to the eyes. The 4th is perfectly balanced, the 5th is well pointed, highly dramatic and with a breakneck finale. The 6th is just glorious, opening at a relaxed and flowing tempo reminiscent of Cluytens and the glorious Giulini recording of the 1960's, but picks up and ultimately recalls the famous recording by Bohm more than any other-indeed, it is the Bohm cycle which is perhaps the closest in character to this one (certainly NOT the Thielemann as suggested by SFL in his review on amazon.com).
The Seventh is what it should be-the epitome of the dance-and has all the bounce and sparkle eschewed by Thielemann in his version, with a second movement of momentous power and drama to offset the gaiety, the Eighth is the charming hors-d'oeuvre to the entrée of the Ninth, which is beautifully balanced with a stirring finale and for once has excellent soloists drawn from the ranks of the companies of Munich and Vienna.
The playing is exquisite and virtuosic throughout-I heard no lapses-and the rich warmth of this orchestra sounds "just right"-I didn't miss my beloved VPO at any point.
With glorious recording, I would have to give this set the nod over the Thielemann.
However, we are not finished yet-for there are "extras" as I hinted earlier, and these are not the usual Overtures or Ruins of Athens, but contemporary works commissioned to reflect each composer's reactions and impressions to a chosen symphony.
Most listeners will like me be familiar with the names at least and probably the music of Schedrin, Kancheli and Widmann, but names such as Staud and Mochizuki and the unpronounceable Serksnyte are likely to be unfamiliar.
All of the music is approachable, and indeed the Kancheli is actually enjoyable though I struggle to see the relation to Beethoven, and many will find these to be valuable additions.
I'm bound to observe that I don't think they illuminate the symphonies which apparently inspired them, and I certainly don't want to hear them as they are presented, interspersed between the symphonies, but they can be accessed separately of course and many will no doubt enjoy them more than I do. I will return to them on occasion.
If I apply the description "conservative" to this Beethoven set, it is intended as a compliment.
These naturally flowing interpretations allow the music of Beethoven to speak to us in an unfussy, unmannered and totally convincing way, and with playing of breathtaking beauty and superb recording, they now form my top choice among modern recordings. The modern additions are either a welcome bonus or irrelevant dependent on your taste.
Classic versions already mentioned hold their place of course, but this handsomely presented 6 CD set in BR Klassik's usual livery and with extensive notes is offered at mid-price, and warrants a firm 5 Stars. Wholly recommended. Stewart Crowe.
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Showing 1-10 of 13 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 20 Jan 2014 21:46:01 GMT
Last edited by the author on 20 Jan 2014 21:48:50 GMT
Stewart, do you regard Paavo Järviīcycle as HIP? It is surely HIP influenced but with a modern orchestra, a very fine one at that. For me this is the most exciting modern version. Probably our conception of how Beethoven should sound differ fundamentally. I will however also listen to this new Jansonīs version and am sure that I will find it convincing too but in a very differnt way. Maybe beauty is not what I look for most in Beethoven. I have ordered the Chailly box and am curioue as to how I will react. I don īt believe that he used a smaller orchestra. I have see shots of it on TV here and it was a full symphony orcestra, maybe playing more leanly.
In reply to an earlier post on 20 Jan 2014 23:30:23 GMT
Last edited by the author on 20 Jan 2014 23:30:57 GMT
Only in the same sense as Chailly, in that he adheres closely to the published metronome markings ( which are musicologically discredited but that's another topic) and so the results are very exciting. I love these works in so many different interpretative styles. Jeremy got it right in his posting when he said that these symphonies form part of our musical DNA- a brilliant remark I thought. Best regards as ever, Stewart.
In reply to an earlier post on 21 Jan 2014 16:56:15 GMT
Last edited by the author on 21 Jan 2014 18:10:44 GMT
Itīs not just the tempi that make Järviīs Beethoven so exciting. Phrasing, articulation, balance between the instruments and the recorded sound play a part too.
You brought up the topic of Beethoven īs metronome markings so I feel that I have to answer you. Beethoven`s metrononme markings have not been discredited, much as traditionalists like you wish to believe this. Who says this? They are generally accepted today as a guide as to Beeethovenīs intentions - not to be slavishy adhered to but as ageneral indication. One of them is in fact slower than we are used to. Of course the musicians have to make ajustements according to the size of the orchestra and acoustics of the hall. But it is quite simply a fact that Beethoven welcomed the invention of the metronome and even considered doing away with the traditional termas like allegro, andante etc. His pupill Czerny, who was not old and crotchety at the time confirmed Beethovenīs markings. Incidentall Schumann also left markings requiring faster performances than we are used to. Speaking for myself I prefer tempi closer to Betthoven īs markings. They make the music more coherent for me as well as more exciting and radical.
No conductor is forced to follow Beethovenīs markings and performances in other tempi can be equally inspiring, as Jansons no doubt is. Nearly all major conductors of today have incorporated the tempi marked by Beethoven into their interpretations - nobosy as far as I know plays Beethoven as slowly as 40- 50 years ago.(Thielemann - I don īt know).
I doubt whether I will have convinced you but there are innumerable listings on Google about the subject. I am aware of the fact that there have been a number of attempts to discredit Bīs metronome markings - metronome was broken, he was too old to read it properly etc.
As far as I know all these have been rejected, except by die-hard traditionalists or listeners so steeped in late Romantic music that they simply cannot accept the generally faster tempi.
PS I hardly know the Gurre-Lieder at all. I do have a recording somewhere. Should give it a listen Rattle I think. Why should I like Haitink. I usually find him a bit boring.
In reply to an earlier post on 21 Jan 2014 18:10:04 GMT
Stephen, don't get so touchy! Firstly, I actually said that I like both Chailly's and Jarvi's classical readings, breathless as they are at times. I am not as you imply an unreformed Romanticist- I like Beethoven by Klemperer, Furtwangler, Tennstedt, Karajan, Harnoncourt, Hogwood, Chailly and both Paavo and Kristijan Jarvi to name but a smattering as well as Thielemann and Jansons.
I don't much care for the small scale so called HIP bands, especially the LCO under Norrington-but then HE doesn't observe the markings.
There are many thoughts about them-including that many have been added by another hand-that's the only point I was making, not a discrediting of those who adhere close to them.
Composers are rarely the yardstick by which conductors interpret their music-the scholarly Wagner "Gesamtausgabe" suggests that conductors like Knappertsbusch were so far off the mark with regard to Wagner's wishes as to be almost beyond belief-and that probably Albert Coates was the nearest to Wagner's wishes!
That was the only point. As ever, S.
In reply to an earlier post on 21 Jan 2014 19:15:40 GMT
Stewrat, I take your point. Now that you have explained things clearly I understand fully.
As we both know the composers didn īt always give the best interpretations of their own works. Stravinsky is a good example, probably simply not such a good conductor. Even Benjamin Britten, whose music (much of it) I really love has in some cases been eclipsed as an interpreter by other more recent conductors.By the way have you heard the Jansonīs War Requiem. I have heard excerpts and despite wonderful playing and a superior choir feel that he misses the mood of this music a bit - too solid and maybe a bit rigid. Not mysterious enough. Try the new Pappano recording. Noseda is good too but Barbican Hall live - just not a good venue for recording - too dead and far away.
Best as always,
In reply to an earlier post on 21 Jan 2014 19:33:47 GMT
Last edited by the author on 21 Jan 2014 19:35:17 GMT
The Jansons War Requiem is STUNNING! He starts off rally swiftly, but the overall architecture is wonderful. I've got Noseda and Pappano as well ( and Britten, Rattle. Davis, Hickox and Masur ) I was surprised how good Netrebko is- but Emily Magee is wonderful too, and Geraher is SO moving. The playing is to die for - much better than Santa Cecilia. Try to hear it complete - it's devastating.
You are right about the Barbican acoustic- better than it was, but no match for Gasteig! All 3 are better than the Britten, reinforcing your point! As ever, S.
In reply to an earlier post on 21 Jan 2014 20:38:43 GMT
Last edited by the author on 21 Jan 2014 21:51:14 GMT
As I said I only heard the first few minutes of the Jansonīs recording. It seemed a bit too beefy and resolute but I am determined to hear the rest. Sorry to plague once again with the Swiss programme. They rejected the Jansons after the first round - based only on the opening. Papano won, Noseda was well reviewed but poor recording quality. "Sou8nded like an old, almost historic recording". Hickox wasnīt in the running because it was limited to new recordings. They did say that the choir and orchestra were outstanging under Jansons but it was the mood and atmosphere that they felt was lacking. Rather unfair after only hearing the beginning but these are the rules of the programme. I can believe that Gerhaher is moving. I think that he is a wonderful singer, an intelligent singer (if that is praise) and a singer who proceeds from the word/text. He declaims the German language better than any other singer I know without the exagerration and manneriwms of Dieskau. I also like his Mahler cycles.
Not beefy enough for some but so subtle and artculate. Unfortunately his Lied von der Erde is ruined by the poor voice of Voigt, the tenor - a great pity!
SFL finds Gerhaher underpowered and with too little Oompf but he likes things "overpowered".
Rattle and the BPO did a semi-staged performance of the Matthew Passion in Berlin - Peter Sellers (whose Mozart operas I didn īt enjoy) did the choreography. Itīs a DVD. I don īt know if it īs available in the UK. Most interesting! Really moving! A very emotional Padmore as the Evangelist and a Christ, sung by Gerhaher that could make you weep. He is placed on a gallery above the orchestra and dimly lit. It īs like a voice from another world. If you haven īt seen it, you should. Not HIP but probably influenced. Fairly big choir that also "act". All sing by heart, no seats and no scores. Wonderful soloists from the BPO (oboe) and one of Quasthofīs last appearances. Order it on Amazon de if you canīt get it in England.
Until the next time. Iīm glad that we have taken up corresponding again.
Are you sure that the Jansonīs was recorded in the Gsteig. Generally he still prefers the old Herkules-Saal of the Residenz.
PS Iīve just looked on Amazon. The Matthew Passion DVD doesnīt appear to have been released in the UK. It is available on Amazon de for 24 Euros. Highly
recommended if you want to see and hear a very emotional Bach masterpiece.
In reply to an earlier post on 21 Jan 2014 23:13:54 GMT
Yes it was Gasteig for sure - I was surprised especially as the ambience is very resonant in the manner of the Herkulessaal. The boys choir sounds like it is actually in Heaven. The chamber orchestra is perfectly caught, and the recording is supervised by Wilhelm Meister who is the best there is. As for the playing, NOTHING gets near it.
Trust me- the Swiss were wrong. Best Regards, Stewart.
In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jan 2014 18:50:28 GMT
Stewart, I have just ordered the Jansonsīs War Requiem.
I have listened to bits of the Chailly set (arrived yesterday). My first impression is positive but I don īt believe that the tempi are really close to Beethovenīs metronome
markings. You claimed this in one of your mails to me. Not that this worries me! Just to be accurate.
Have you listened to the ivor Levitt late Beethoven sonatas. The term "great" applies in this case, although Levitt is quite young. Truly masterly.
In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jan 2014 19:22:42 GMT
Well, I'm not going to claim to be an authority on the exact nature of the metronome markings attributed to Beethoven, but it was not MY judgement but that of Chailly himself in interviews at the time, and of the published critics who commented on the set that the performances were nearer to the markings than was the norm.They are certainly brisker and more alert than most versions with a modern orchestra, which itself is smaller giving a more chamber like approach. While I like them a lot, I was not as blown away as some others were, but that's just me.
The Jansons War Requiem is simply wonderful - I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. As ever, Stewart.
Beethoven: Symphonies and Reflections [Mariss Jansons, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra] [BR Klassik:900119](3 customer reviews)