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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92 (1812) [40:00]
Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93 (1812) [26:00]
Jörg WIDMANN (b. 1973)
Con brio - concert overture for orchestra (2008) [11:50]
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Mariss Jansons
rec. Suntory Hall, Tokyo, Japan, 30 November 2012 (Symphony 7) and 1 December 2012 (Symphony 8); Philharmonie, Munich, Germany, 25-26 September 2008 (Widmann)
BR KLASSIK 900137 [78:06]

This release is one of a complete Beethoven symphonic cycle that has already appeared in box set form (review). A report on the equivalent concert that preceded the Japan tour can be found here.

Mariss Jansons’ approach to these symphonies is conventional but with a supremely high quality of performance from his orchestra we have here some very fine Beethoven indeed. The first movement of the Seventh Symphony bursts both with rhythmic energy as it does with refinement. Dynamics are keenly observed and a characteristic depth and balance of sonority in the orchestral sound invites you back for more. The Allegretto is on the swifter side of funereal, making no compromise in its expressive power along the way. The Presto of the third movement drives hard, but again with each subtle nuance communicated and given its full value. This is the kind of movement which, you will perhaps notice retrospectively, Jörg Widmann taps in his Con brio, something which also sparks to life in the Allegro con brio finale to the Seventh. This is a performance that can stand its ground against the best company and delivers on each hearing.

Jörg Widmann’s Con brio was commissioned by Mariss Jansons to be based “in some way or another” on Beethoven’s Seventh and Eighth symphonies. There are no actual quotes in this work, but Widmann “assumes the gesture” of Beethoven’s music, deconstructing ideas and ‘assembling blocks’ of sound that refer to Beethoven-esque signatures and the forcefulness of his intent. The piece is a remarkably virtuoso one for orchestra, zipping through extremes of contrast and mood and demanding the utmost in terms of response from the musicians. There are clear moments of Beethoven-like rhythm and orchestral colour, but these fleeting acknowledgements are constantly in conflict with striking modernistic effects and equally fleeting atonal skyrockets of one kind or another. This works remarkably well both as a fragmented lens on which to gaze at Beethoven’s brilliance through today’s eyes, as it does as a spectacular piece in its own right.

The Eighth Symphony emerges from Con brio like sunshine breaking over the horizon on the first day of your best vacation. I sense a very slight dislocation between strings and winds at 1:30 into the first movement but this is a micro-lapse amid another strong performance. Jansons doesn’t wait for the acoustic or shape his phrases to allow for any gaps, and the sharp contrasts can create some moments of surprise. There is real drama in the opening Allegro vivace e con brio with stormy scenes that remind one of the ‘Pastoral’ symphony, for which the skipping lightness of the following Allegretto scherzando is a perfect foil. The sense of fun and wit in this movement is dispersed somewhat in the Tempo de Menuetto, to which Jansons gives added weight of sonority and a sense of undulating horizontal movement, a feeling of being grounded rather than one of flight. The final Allegro vivace is done well, though might have been able to use the slightest bit of extra forward momentum. The playing is certainly vivace however, and what we might feel the need to urge in speed is repaid in terms of colour and dynamism.

This Eighth Symphony is very good but hasn’t been my favourite in this cycle so far. There’s certainly nothing missing, but it doesn’t quite take flight as I’ve heard happen elsewhere. On the whole this recording delivers a terrific programme superbly recorded and performed. I would still point potential purchasers towards the more economical box set when it comes to this cycle, but this remains an excellent disc in its own right. The live recordings are very clean, though applause is retained after each work.

Dominy Clements



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