Symphony No.7 in E [Edition by Leopold Nowak]
hr-Sinfonieorchester [Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra]Paavo Järvi
Recorded 22-24 November 2006 in Alte Oper, Frankfurt
Reviewed by: Christian Hoskins
Reviewed: September 2009
CD No: RCA RED SEAL
Duration: 67 minutes
Although 2009 marks the bicentenary of the death of Joseph Haydn, record companies seem more interested in documenting the output of another Austrian symphonist, Anton Bruckner. Many conductors are currently working their way through Bruckner’s symphonic canon, including Sir Roger Norrington, Jaap van Zweden, Simone Young, Ivor Bolton, Marek Janowski, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Marcus Bosch, and Paavo Järvi. Given the surfeit of recordings, new ones need to be exceptional in both interpretation and recording quality. Paavo Järvi’s account of the Seventh, deeply felt and superbly executed, scores highly on both counts.
Järvi’s tempo for the symphony’s sweeping opening statement is slow but marvellously sustained, a sense of yearning and ecstasy communicated through luminous playing and judicious phrasing. Similar qualities inform the rest of the movement, with clarity and expressiveness to the fore and a sense of line maintained throughout, despite some unmarked ritardandos on the approach to transitions. The lead into the coda is wonderfully prepared, although Järvi’s subsequent disregard for Bruckner’s instruction “nach und nach etwas schneller” (gradually somewhat faster) results in a slight dissipation of tension towards the close.
The Adagio is given a performance of profundity, concentration and purpose. Järvi builds the movement’s main climax with exemplary skill, accepting the cymbal-crash and triangle-roll from the Nowak edition of the score, and concluding with a deeply moving account of the coda. The orchestral response here is superb, the horns overwhelming in expression of grief, followed by rapt playing from the violins and haunting solos from flute, oboe and clarinet. The concluding passage for the horns and Wagner tubas is effected with breathtaking eloquence. Although Nowak’s edition call for seven pizzicatos on cellos and double basses Järvi follows common practice in performing only four, as indicated in the earlier Haas edition.
Rugged power and clear articulation characterise the performance of the scherzo, while the all-too-brief trio is imbued with warmth and poetry. The finale is vibrant and characterful, enlivened by rich and imposing playing from the brass. After such a carefully thought-out interpretation, however, it is disappointing to find Järvi adopting the increasingly-common but inauthentic custom of slowing down for the coda. Where this unhelpful practice originates is not clear. The score (whichever edition is used) indicates a tempo at this point, and early recordings of the symphony by Ormandy (1935), Böhm (1943) and Furtwängler (1949 and 1951) show how the coda benefits from being played as Bruckner intended, as do more-recent performances by Karajan (1975), Wand (1980) and Barenboim (1992). Järvi’s coda, by contrast, is some 30 percent slower than the start of the movement and fails to deliver the knockout conclusion that a faster tempo might have allowed.
Still, given the quality of the Adagio, in particular, Paavo Järvi’s performance is compelling. The clarity, depth and spaciousness of the sound belie the fact that the symphony was recorded at concerts, the SACD multichannel layer being particularly impressive. The booklet note includes a short essay on the symphony and an interview with Järvi.