Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)
Symphony No.8 in F, Op.93
The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen
Recorded in Scoring Stage, Berlin – 26-28 August 2004 (Symphony No.8) & 27-29 August 2005
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: January 2008
CD No: RCA RED SEAL 88697
00655 2 [CD/SACD]
Duration: 69 minutes
If one aspect of ‘great conducting’ is to convince, then Paavo Järvi is a terrific persuader. The first movement of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ is a monumental conception that is best enhanced by a full-size, ‘modern’ symphony orchestra and moderate to expansive tempos; and, there is a strong case for not observing the exposition repeat. Järvi, with his chamber orchestra, chooses as rapid a tempo as is surely possible and takes the repeat. But the music-making is achieved with such focus, lyrical generosity and rhythmic bounce that what could have been metronomic and unyielding is actually incident-packed, overflowing with pertinent detail and played with an incision and conviction that is wholly persuasive.
Järvi’s ‘historically informed’ approach extends to trills begun on the upper note and minimal vibrato. Again, such things are made to work. Violins are antiphonal – and indulge in wonderful exchanges – woodwinds, brass and timpani are let off the leash, but always with consideration to the overall argument, and doubles basses, for all that they are ‘only’ three in number, are a constant presence in their cut and thrust. If the ‘funeral march’ second movement is relatively swift, all over in 13 minutes, it is also deeply felt and suitably lamenting, if not always avoiding something inappropriately jaunty; yet when the movement’s upheaval arrives the timpani rattle and brass blares – emotions rise and a cathartic climax is the outcome.
With a fleet scherzo – the trio’s three horns deft in execution and also enjoying Järvi’s slight reduction in pace – and a finale that flies by (and in which Bärenreiter’s Urtext Edition calls for some passages to feature solo strings), this is a notable ‘Eroica’. It isn’t a novel or new approach (Hermann Scherchen set down a proportionally similar ‘Eroica’ in the 1950s, albeit with a larger orchestra and less concern for ‘authentic’ niceties, and there is no shortage of other ‘looking-back’ accounts), but Järvi’s takes its place very firmly as ‘recommendable’ – and superbly recorded.
The Eighth Symphony is cut from similar cloth. The first movement is driven, arguably too much so, and – surprisingly – the very opening lacks a commanding call-to-attention (unlike the ‘Eroica’) but there is nothing short-changed about the clarity of detail thereafter; furthermore, Järvi does ‘nothing’ with the final bars – as Beethoven indicates – and Järvi’s comic timing is (virtually) spot-on. Wit and rude good health inform the middle movements (the Minuet played through four times in total either side of the conversation for cello, clarinet and horns, lovely playing, that forms the trio) and the finale is a rampage – too fast, probably, but requiring quicksilver reactions from the musicians, who throughout respond magnificently.
Strangely enough, for these two symphonies, it is the Cleveland Orchestra that (still) holds the recorded palm – Szell in the ‘Eroica’ (CBS/Sony), Kubelík in the Eighth (Deutsche Grammophon) – but, as the first volume in this Bremen/Järvi Beethoven cycle, the appetite has been whetted for the next instalment, and whatever comes next, this ‘Eroica’ seems a clear first-choice in the category of ‘rolling the performance clock back’.