Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 – 1827) Concerto for piano and orchestra No. 5 in E flat major, Emperor Op. 73 [35:42]
Choral Fantasia in C minor for piano, soloists, chorus and orchestra, Op. 80 [18:20]
Boris Berezovsky (piano), Inger Dam-Jensen, Ulla Munch (soprano), Lilli Paasikivi (contralto), Lars Cleveman, Torsten Nielsen (tenor), Karl-Magnus Fredriksson (bass)
DR vocal ensemble and choir, Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard
rec. 28 May-1 June 2001, 13 January 2005, Örebro Concert Hall SIMAX PSC1285 [54:01]
Thomas Dausgaard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra’s complete cycle with Beethoven’s orchestral music has been under way since the turn of the century. This the final instalment, was recorded as early as 2001 and 2005. I have not been following the series but have seen many positive reviews through the years.
A distinguishing point with this series is that it is performed by a chamber orchestra – there are 39 regular members – playing on modern instruments. Some of the techniques that the historically informed camp claim to be correct for the music of this time are adopted. They play with little or no vibrato which produces crisper and more analytical results sound. This contrasts with the rounder and more upholstered sound you get from a full-size modern symphony orchestra, like the Vienna Philharmonic who play under Karl Böhm on my hitherto preferred recording of the Emperor concerto with Maurizio Pollini as soloist. Böhm was in his mid-eighties when the recording was made but he still adopted lively tempos and the concerto clocks in at only three minutes longer than Berezovsky and Dausgaard. The dynamic contrasts are undoubtedly wider on the Pollini/Böhm recording but there is no lack of contrasts on the Simax recording, which is in no way small in scale. It is a scintillating performance, vital with springy rhythms: brisk but not breathless, rather big-boned but nuanced. Berezovsky is fleet-fingered and poetic but has the requisite power to make the conclusion of the first movement grandiose.
The Choral Fantasia was recorded, I believe, in connection with Symphony No. 9, when the choir of the Danish Radio and four soloists were available. There is also a thematic connection between the Fantasy and the Ode to Joy final movement of the symphony, though the symphony was still fifteen years ahead when the fantasy was composed. The theme, which appears about four minutes into the work, is in spite of the minor key rather jolly and has a rural character. The playing of Berezovsky is just as assured as in the concerto and I would say that the vocal contributions are about the best I have heard in this music. The Danish Radio Choir has a solid reputation which they live up to, but even more I was impressed by the homogenous sound of the soloists. The four leading singers are after all some of the most prominent opera soloists in the Nordic countries.
Readers who have followed this eminent series can safely invest in this final instalment and general listeners who want fresh and riveting readings in superb sound of the two works here, will arguably search in vain for something that surpasses this disc. It goes straight to that close-at-hand shelf with favourite recordings of favourite repertoire.