Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Coriolan Overture, Op.62 (1807) [7:49]
Symphony No.4 in B flat major, Op. 60 (1806) [35:30]
Symphony No.7 in A major, Op. 92 (1812) [43:09]
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Vladimir Jurowski
rec. live, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, 4 February 2010.
Picture format DVD: NTSC 16:9
Sounds formats DVD: PCM Stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1
Region code: 0
Booklet notes: English, German, French
IDEAL AUDIENCE DVD 3079298 [89:00]
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment seems to like engaging “big name” conductors from outside the HIP world. As one of the resident orchestras of Glyndebourne the OAE knows Vladimir Jurowski well, and its musicians seem to enjoy working with him in the all Beethoven programme preserved on this DVD.
The concert opens with an explosive, darkly dramatic Coriolan Overture, the martial first subject all punchy accents and yawping horns, the second subject lyrical, its sweetness underpinned by pleading of desperate urgency. Dying with a whisper, this is an excellent performance, and solidly within the sound-world of period performance practice.
The symphonies that follow are similarly ear-tickling, but not quite so HIP. That Jurowski understands the unusual sound qualities of the OAE’s period instruments is clear. Throughout the concert the sheer sound of the orchestra is fascinating in and of itself. The winds match up to the strings as equal partners. The natural brass and timpani cut through the textures without being overpowering. The proud period horns in particular sound fabulous.
However, rather than marching to Beethoven’s metronomic quickstep, Jurowski favours traditional big band tempi. These slower tempi give him and the OAE extra room for imaginative phrasing and expansive gesture, coloured by the distinctive sounds of gut strings, period winds, and natural horns and trumpets.
Turn to the fourth symphony to see what I mean. Timings are never definitive, but comparing Jurowski’s timings to Norrington’s first crack at this score on EMI/Virgin and Mackerras’ second historically informed recording on Hyperion finds Jurowski noticeably slower in all four movements. Even the young(ish) Leonard Bernstein on Sony (recently re-released in a bargain box on Sony Classical Masters 88697683912) whips through all but the second movement in quicker time than Jurowski. A closer match is Claudio Abbado’s live recording on DVD with the Berlin Philharmonic on tour in Italy (reviewed here in its TDK incarnation, now on Euroarts), in which Abbado brings some HIP thinking into a performance by one of the world’s great un-HIP orchestras. The table below sets out the comparative timings.
Abbado (EuroArts DVD)
Comparative listening confirms what the raw numbers suggest. Jurowski feels slower. That said, his reading of the fourth has enough imaginative detailing and rhythmic verve to maintain the music’s dramatic tension. There is plenty of humour too. Jurowski and the OAE linger over the spookily mysterious hush of the adagio introduction to the first movement, after which the allegro vivace rides on sprung rhythms and glorious exchanges between the principal winds. The strings are a bit chewy in their vibrato free rendering of the second movement’s long legato lines, but the winds again star here, as they do in the trio of the expansive third movement, taken at a very leisurely pace by a smiling Jurowski. The finale, while hardly HIP-quick, does not lack for pace and character, accented by the cut and thrust of explosive timpani.
The seventh trades the fourth’s wit for buoyancy. Again, the introduction to the first movement is very spacious, with ascending scales strongly projected over assertive timpani strokes. The vivace, when it arrives, feels more like an upbeat allegretto, but maintains a confident stride. The comparative movement timings show just how leisurely Jurowski is in this opening movement.
Abbado (EuroArts DVD)
As the table also shows, the two internal movements are less drawn out this time around, a good decision in the case of the second movement allegretto in particular, which makes dramatic use of spare string textures. The finale is again not quick, but Jurowski’s rhythmic pointing maintains the music’s excitement.
Visually, I have some reservations. While the camera angles are varied and not overused, and while the opening and closing shots afford a glimpse at the art deco glory of the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, the concert images glower rather more than I would like. The effect of an orchestra and conductor wreathed in black in a gloomy space suits the Coriolan Overture, but seems at odds with the high spirits and joyous nature of the two symphonies. Abbado and his Berliners on their rival DVD, seem altogether lighter and brighter, with white shirts and ties offsetting their concert blacks, and flowers and the light coloured wood of the stage at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome adding to the festive feel.
Still, director Olivier Simonnet ensures that soloists are captured up close and captures Jurowski’s interesting podium manner, full of crouching and pointing. The sound, at least in PCM Stereo, is clean, clear and just a touch dry.
Whether or not you respond to the blend of HIP and traditional stylings featured on this DVD, the music making is dramatic, rhythmically alive, often spacious and consistently engaging.
Dramatic, rhythmically alive, often spacious and consistently engaging.