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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony no. 25 in G minor K183 [22:46]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony no. 5 in C minor op. 67 [29:23]
Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra/Gábor Takácz-Nagy
rec. 27 July 2012, Verbier Festival
Picture format DVD: NTSC 16:9
Sounds format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0
Booklet notes: English, German, French
IDEALE AUDIENCE 3079948 [51:00]

This relatively short DVD from the nineteenth Verbier Festival presents accomplished accounts of two classical symphonic staples, both performed with relatively little influence from the HIP movement. Of the Festival’s two resident orchestras, the Chamber Orchestra heard here is the smaller and more mature of the two, consisting of former members of the Symphony Orchestra, which is reserved for those under age 28.
 
Both works are given on modern instruments with a string section of thirty players, sitting in the traditional layout (violins together) and with ample vibrato. This allows for some moments of glowing warmth, particularly in the Beethoven, as well as the clarity and sharp account of a small section. The film also captures many nice moments of silent communication among players, be it a mid-phrase smile between desk partners or a glance between woodwinds. These players clearly enjoy playing together, and this chamber orchestra atmosphere produces fine results in ensemble and phrasing.
 
Mozart's 'little' G minor symphony (distinguished from No. 40) harks back to the Sturm und Drang style developed by Haydn. The Verbier players give an honest and warm account of it, Takácz-Nagy applying ample rubato to emphasise the work's softer corners. Strangely the opening oboe solo seems is rather baleful at this free and relaxed tempo. The tempo for the third movement’s trio is substantially relaxed. Woodwind shine throughout, with the two oboes and bassoons sitting at the front of the string sections. This serves to highlight their solos, and the horns sing beautifully from the conventional woodwind position behind the strings.
 
The strings themselves play with pleasing ensemble and clarity, and give strong character to their more prominent lines. The tremolo violin crotchets in the first movement, for instance, are superbly shaped. In the second movement they play with ample vibrato, guided by Takácz-Nagy's long sweeping gestures. The clarity never wavers, which allows the contrapuntal writing of the fourth movement to be seen in pleasing relief.
 
Performances of Beethoven symphonies tend to lie somewhere on a scale from grandiose, romantic to lean and crisp from the HIP school. Given with the same forces as the Mozart, this reading is somewhere in-between, and tends to avoid extremes throughout. The overall shape of the work is closer to Barenboim than John Eliot Gardiner, but the textures are closer to the latter.
 
The first movement opens with fierce energy and a sense of drive which is very well sustained without disruption of the more legato corners. The Andante contains some beautiful moments, notably in a gloriously smooth cello semiquaver passage, but Takácz-Nagy does not dwell on these for long, pushing introspection away amid the tumult of the first movement. The Scherzo’s early horn-calls are not overly imposing, but the sense of anticipation built on the way into the Finale is superb, and much aided by the clear textures. The grand C major arrival into the fourth movement is taken without much of a breath before the plunge, although this arguably extends the momentum of the Scherzo. Once again it is a joy to observe the players’ interaction with each other, and they seem very satisfied after the final chord.
 
Both performances are very well captured in terms of both sound and vision. In parts of the Beethoven a closer attention to the bass section might have been helpful, but this is more likely to be the product of there only being two bassists on-stage. If anything the sound is slightly too closely captured: a stream of sharp breaths, stamps and grunts comes from Takácz-Nagy in both pieces. This is rarely a major problem; some may find it irritating, but it also brings the listener closer to the performance.
 
There seems to have been plenty of scope for an extra work or even some background footage on this disc, given its short length. Instead we are treated to a minute or so of very attractive mountain scenery. There is much to commend on this DVD though, and as chamber orchestra recordings of the Beethoven on DVD go, this is a strong contender.
 
Rohan Shotton 

Masterwork Index: Beethoven symphony 5 ~~ Mozart symphony 25