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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60 (1806) [33:17]
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92 (1812) [41:29]
Royal Flemish Philharmonic/Philippe Herreweghe
rec. De Roma, Antwerp, DDD.
TALENT DOM 2929 100 [75:42]

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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60 (1806) [31:01]1
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92 (1812) [38:14]2
The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen/Paavo Järvi
rec. Scoring Stage Berlin/Deutsches Filmorchester 124-26 August 2005, 218-19 June 2004 & 3-4 September 2006, DDD.
RCA RED SEAL 88697 129332 [69:23]
Experience Classicsonline


Schumann memorably termed Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony "a slender Grecian maiden between two Nordic giants". Well, with a standard orchestra Philippe Herreweghe shows her svelte aspects but she also packs a punch as from the same stable as Beethoven 3 and 5. His introduction is clean, cool, concentrated, with an air of pleasant expectancy, the quavers lightly treated. The Allegro vivace explodes gaily, the first part of its second theme (tr. 1 3:32) light and jocular, the second part (4:01) smooth and contented on clarinet and bassoon but bracing in the strings’ response. This is typical of the many outbursts and Herreweghe brings a fresh exuberance to them all with lively attention to and vivid realization of Beethoven’s strong contrasts of dynamic.

The slow movement’s cantabile theme is spaciously presented which clarifies its shape yet the texture is kept lean and transparent, the ticking accompaniment crisp. The clarinet solo second theme (tr. 2 2:11) is expansive yet melting. The central section (4:12) is a little sterner but still trim and the return of the opening theme on the flute has a refreshingly pristine quality. This is unfussy, classical presentation, yet with bite where appropriate. Herreweghe’s ability quickly to contrast verve and suaveness is again to be heard in the scherzo. The trio, marked less fast, fittingly has a touch more lilt in the wind but the strings remain ever restless and propulsive. In the finale the second theme (tr. 4 0:31) is more blithe and Herreweghe brings to the playful strings an improvisatory feel, as in the deft cellos and basses’ take up (0:37) while the mettlesome tuttis are busy, eager and exultant. Altogether, then, Herreweghe’s Beethoven 4 is very attractive: light on its feet, lively, firmly contrasted and with a classical discipline. But for mystery and a romantic focus on drama, look to the ever pacier Järvi with chamber orchestra. Here are the comparative timings


Timings   

i

ii

iii

iv    

total

Herreweghe

11:26

9:22 

5:44

6:45

33:17

Järvi

10:50

8:35

5:28

6:08

31:01

To the introduction of the first movement Paavo Järvi brings mystery and colour. The presence of the horns (tr. 1 0:52), then the string bass (1:11) imparts an ominous feeling. Järvi’s Allegro vivace eruption is more spicy and animated than Herreweghe’s. The first part of Järvi’s second theme (tr. 1 3:28) is as light but rather merrier than Herreweghe’s while the second part (3:57) moves from blithe clarinet and bassoon to vivacious strings in a sheer irrepressible sweep. You feel you’re in the midst of a great uprising and caught up in it. This is partly the immediacy of the recording and committed music making, partly Järvi’s ability to convey the broad architecture as well as immediate detail. Dynamic contrasts emerge as strongly as with Herreweghe but Järvi makes them more the servant of realizing the overall spirit of the movement. Accordingly the development is felt as a journey, eagerly engaged, whose atmosphere and articulation, e.g. the spiky lower strings at the outset (from 6:40), are as vividly and intensely realized as with period instrument performances.

Järvi’s slow movement is pacier than Herreweghe’s but his flowing tempo creates a warmer cantabile. Järvi’s pace brings more sense of incident and dramatic experience though I feel the forte accents are a touch overdone. It does, however, allow Järvi to make the second theme (tr. 2 2:01) by contrast more magically seem a phase of suspended animation. His central section (4:02) has a more grave bite than Herreweghe’s, out of which the violins’ arabesques appear the more delicate. Järvi’s return of the opening theme on the flute has a gambolling character.

Järvi’s scherzo initially seems rather deliberate in articulation but takes flight on its reappearance. In the trio the wind are more formal and hymn-like than Herreweghe’s which allows Järvi’s violins’ responses to be of a cheekier, jubilant winsome nature, to delightful effect. In the finale Järvi’s second theme (tr. 4 0:28) has a cheeky élan while the whole has a scampering buzz. By contrast the pauses in the coda are drawn out to relish the humour. So Järvi’s approach to Beethoven 4 is more stunning and vibrant than Herreweghe’s. His chamber orchestra brings more athletic drive, suppleness and flexibility. While Herreweghe allows you to sit back and savour the music, Järvi with prodigious energy sweeps you through every incident.

Turning to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony the question occurs is more weight needed than Järvi’s chamber orchestra can supply? Does Herreweghe’s full orchestra bring more formality and heroic quality? I’d say the latter is true but not the former. The immediacy of the RCA recording and Järvi’s more animated approach are compensating factors. Here are the comparative timings


Timings   

i

ii

iii

iv    

total

Herreweghe

14:11

8:48 

9:38

9:32

41:29

Järvi

13:13

7:43

8:52

8:26

38:14

In the first movement introduction the contrast between the tutti chords and the woodwind solos is more vividly realized by Järvi because his chords have more heft and the woodwind a more glowing, open tone. The strings’ rising scales are at first lighter, then more penetrating. There’s more urgency and guts in the experience than with Herreweghe. On the other hand Herreweghe displays bright chords streaming across memorably lyrical woodwind and his strings’ rising scales have a suitably imposing heroic edge. The Vivace’s first theme on flute is headier from Herreweghe, more joyful from Järvi. To the following tutti Herreweghe brings both excitement and rigour, the important horn parts splendidly prominent. Järvi’s approach has more of a skipping quality and the emphasis is rather on rhythmic exultation right across the orchestra. The second theme is treated more firmly by Herreweghe (tr. 5 5:07), with more of a swaggering flourish by Järvi (tr. 5 4:32). Both conductors effectively point the lower strings’ groundswell in the coda, Herreweghe to provide a heroic conclusion, Järvi to create a build up of exciting inevitability.

To the slow movement Herreweghe brings a dense solemnity yet perceptible flow. The appearance of the counter melody on violas and cellos (tr. 5 0:52) is eloquent in an abstractly tragic way. The added texture of first violins and later wind is like a procession coming into view. The central section (3:15) is a calm interlude but the overall atmosphere remains sad. The fugato development (5:44) seems abstractly musing before a stark and stoic coda. Järvi’s quieter tone yet quicker tempo for this movement is even more doleful in effect. His counter melody (tr. 5 0:44) is more a lament and as it gets quieter still more despairing. The added orchestral layers seem to detail minutiae of grief of a body of mourners gathering. Järvi’s central section (2:48) is a more consolatory fond recall of happier times but his recapitulation has the nervous energy of grief that won’t settle which also informs the fugato development (5:02) though this is lightened somewhat.

Herreweghe offers a breezy, urgent scherzo which impresses as a show of force rather than contrast of forceful and lighter material. The trio attempts a persuasive warmth but the prevailing urgency prevents it becoming serene. The close of its second strain has full majesty, another show of force. The trio’s second appearance is more benign and its climax more triumphant. Järvi’s scherzo is lighter on its feet, with more vividly a sense of involvement of the whole spectrum of instruments from lowest to highest because with chamber forces the woodwind are more evenly balanced against the strings. Järvi’s trio is rosier and more flowing, its second strain close more triumphant from the outset. His scherzo’s second appearance, initially softer, is more humane and appealing than Herreweghe’s veiled manner. Järvi’s trio return is at a tempo which sweeps with conviction to its brilliant culmination.

Herreweghe’s finale is commanding in power and weight yet in comparison with Järvi seems a little lumbering in tempo. Järvi shows more momentum and fire. His strings’ semiquavers are lighter, more dance like and the apex of the opening theme is thereby more festive. His second theme (tr. 8 1:10) is more attractively darting whereas at his slightly slower tempo Herreweghe (tr. 8 1:19) simply imposes the aggression of heavy loud accents. Järvi provides more internal contrast, light and shade while the end of his exposition still has an eruption of power and excitement. Herreweghe has the more splendidly blazing coda where Järvi is more athletic than sonorous but Järvi’s brooding cellos and double basses are more insistent and a greater presence.

How do you like your Beethoven? Both Herreweghe and Järvi have many commendable features and come naturally and spaciously recorded in surround sound. Herreweghe is more considered and Olympian, Järvi more spontaneous and varied in mood. Overall I find Järvi the more gripping and the use of chamber orchestra and greater immediacy of the RCA acoustic draw you into his interpretation the more.

 Michael Greenhalgh

 


 




 


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