Beethoven • Symphony No.6 "Pastoral"; Symphony No. 2

Deutsche Kammerphiharmonie, Bremen; Paavo Järvi conducting
RCA Red Seal 88697-54254-2
Hybrid Multichannel SACD



by Leonard Bloom | January 22, 2009

here is a cogent reason why a German word for composer is "tondichter," or "tone-poet." On this disc, the conductor Paavo Järvi presents a vivid sense of poetic mastery himself, harnessing his brilliant 40-member Bremen chamber orchestra to articulate two of Beethoven’s symphonies as if they were poetic tableaux. As a pre-eminent musician who espouses the contemporary school of scholarship, Järvi places his individual stamp on the Beethoven Sixth and Second by conveying a spirited level of excitement and revealing a notable sonic mix of glow and clarity in each work. Thirty years ago, Beethoven for chamber orchestra was publicly considered a mildly interesting fashion in concert halls. Nowadays, it is practically de rigueur for smaller ensembles to perform the classics in new, refreshing interpretations in concert halls and studios. Järvi’s scholarly interpretations convey a pungent sense of characterization, which, for the listener, consistently illuminates the beauty of articulation of each score and the richly responsive playing from a young group of musicians.

Since the earliest days of classical-music recording, Beethoven’s music has been popular with audiences and music collectors alike. In the Sixth, which Berlioz deemed Beethoven’s greatest symphony, Järvi arguably senses that Beethoven wanted to write a symphony replete with subjective feelings of nature drawn by strokes of objective skills. The result for the composer was a masterpiece of pure musical art. Järvi plainly understands the keen necessity for texture and rhythmic bite. Throughout, the conductor paces the symphony magnificently and draws from his players sounds of considerable intensity and splashes of autumnal color. Tempos are brightly judged, with ideal orchestral balance between form and lyrical impulse. Nonetheless, there are some minor issues in Järvi’s conception of the Sixth. Despite the fact that the strings play exceedingly well, at times they lack the sheen and warm polish as found on full-orchestra recordings. In addition, the small number of lower strings cannot produce deep pedal sounds and the violins cannot match the brass in the fourth movement (“Thunderstorm”), primarily when the brass drop out, leaving the small number of strings to support a complete aura of tonal continuity. Conversely, some observers might support the notion that perhaps a small string section alone allows the winds to be heard more effectively. As for the brass section, Järvi never overplays its contribution to the storm scene, and the tympani make a nice, pronounced sound.

Composed during an early period in the life of the composer, the Second is conducted by Järvi using a transparency of texture and weaving a meticulous integration of phrase, shape and accent, which emerge clearly as the symphony unfolds. The first movement is tightly knit, dotted by punchy tuttis, neat string ornaments and leisurely paced tempos. The subsequent Allegro con brio exemplifies neatness of ensemble, missing occasionally a bit of the raw energy the movement requires. The second movement Larghetto is a thing of true beauty. The dance-like tempo is relaxed, and technically there is much stylish playing from the woodwinds and horns. The third movement Scherzo propels itself zealously forward, and the concluding movement contains hints of natural beauty, charm and humor. Although the overall structural mastery and emotional force of the work are noteworthy, the only minor caveat I have is that in certain spots along the way there is a paucity of the weight and gravity which the work demands.

In this core repertoire there abounds competition from historic recordings and even current ones. Nonetheless, it is obvious that much musical thought and preparation have gone into these performances, which merit our attention for their artistic and musical enlightenment. The Bremen forces play with panache, exuberance, and compassion. Technically, the digital engineering is first-rate, both close and well balanced with perfectly wide bandwidth, excellent soundstaging, and super musical detail. This album is a worthy addition to anyone’s library of Beethoven symphonies.

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