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Beethoven for Today: Paavo Järvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Nov 8, 2007 - 12:00:00 AM in reviews_2007


Paavo Järvi: Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. Beethoven, Symphony No.3, “Eroica.” Symphony No. 8.  RCA Red Seal.  A.

   Beethoven’s nine symphonies are the summit of musical inspiration and aspiration.  Every conductor wants to record a complete set at least once.  Cincinnati Symphony music director Paavo Järvi has made the plunge on RCA Red Seal with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, of which he is artistic director.  The first installment, Symphonies No. 3 and 8, was released in the U.S. to coincide with the DK’s American visit during their 2007 world tour with Järvi last summer.
   By all means buy it.  It has won ecstatic reviews everywhere, including the top recording prize in Beethoven’s home country (the 2007 German Record Critics Prize).  Not only is it painstakingly performed and recorded -- the character and presence of the sound will astonish you -- but Järvi has given it a truly individual stamp.  His goal, he said, was to find a middle ground between authentic performance practice (how the music would have been played in Beethoven’s day) and later, more romantic conceptions.  Järvi has done so by allying Beethoven’s famously brisk tempos and textural clarity with his updated feelings about the music.  This is not Olympian Beethoven, elegant Beethoven or romantic Beethoven.  It is gritty, down-to-earth, rock and roll Beethoven, genuinely in tune with the 21st century.
   As performed by Järvi’s 40 musicians, the music grabs the listener and doesn’t let go.  You can almost feel the whiplash of violin open strings, the vibrato-less tread of the “Eroica” Funeral March, the exuberant horn calls in the “Eroica” Scherzo.  Järvi can move easily from head-banging intensity Beethoven uses lots of “sforzandos” (sudden accents) to gentle lyricism as the musical moment requires.  The Finale of the “Eroica” (one-minute slower, actually, than Michael Gielen’s fine1980 recording with the Cincinnati Symphony) has tons of personality, from tongue-in-cheek wit to the hell-for-leather, Presto sprint at the end.
   CD and SACD formats.  Note: Sony BMG (owner/distributor of RCA Red Seal), indicates that this is the only Beethoven series recorded for hybrid Super Audio CD to date.  The second installment, Beethoven’s Fourth and Seventh Symphonies, will be released in the U.S. in 2008, with the third and fourth discs to follow at one-year intervals through 2009.