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
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.
As chamber orchestra DVDs of Beethoven 5 go this is a strong contender.
Masterwork Index: Beethoven