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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.1 in C major Op.21 (1801) [28.43]
Symphony No. 2 in D major Op.36 (1802) [35.47]
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major Op.55 "Eroica" (1803) [49.41]
Symphony No. 4 in B flat major Op.60 (1806) [34.35]
Symphony No. 5 in C minor Op.67 (1808) [40.08]
Symphony No. 6 in F major "Pastoral" Op.68 (1808) [44.01]
Symphony No. 7 in A major Op.92 (1812) [40:53]
Symphony No. 8 in F major Op.93 (1812) [27.15]
Symphony No. 9 in D minor Op.125 (1824) [70.15]
Documentary film: Philippe Jordan - Born to Conduct [52.00]
Ricarda Merbeth (soprano), Daniela Sindram (mezzo), Robert Dean Smith (tenor) Günther Groissböck (bass)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Paris Opera/Philippe Jordan
rec. live: Opéra Bastille, Paris, France; No.1, No.3, 7 November 2014; No.4, No.5, 14 December 2014; No.6, No.8, 18 May 2105; No.9, 13 July 2015: Palais Garnier, Paris, France; No.2, No.7, 10 September 2014
Sound Format PCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround
Picture Format 16:9, 1080i; Region 0, NTSC
Subtitles in English, German, French (Documentary Subtitles English, French, Japanese, Korean) |}Reviewed in surround
ARTHAUS 109249 Blu-ray [3 discs: 457 mins]

Given all the choice available, should you be spending about £60 on this big box of Beethoven? Yes, you should. No one can claim to give definitive performances of these nine extraordinary works. All that is required is that the conductor and orchestra (plus chorus and soloists in the 9th) must perform the music accurately and as if it matters, as it most certainly does. These Paris Opera musicians under their fine Swiss music director do just that and they are well served by the video and audio production team. This music is so well known, and every classical collector is bound to have it all already, that any new recording can only aim to hold our attention and hope that we, the listeners, will respond to the artists’ efforts. Emphatically this set demands a response; at the end of some performances - these really are live - I actually joined in the applause whilst alone in my music room (my wife is very tolerant of my odd behaviour!). I single out the 4th and 8th for this, the end of the 9th is so overwhelming that applause seems somehow inappropriate.

Both the notes and the fascinating documentary emphasize that this is the Paris Opera Orchestra and that many of the musicians had not played these symphonies before. That is very different to the average concert orchestra and it must have helped bring that element of concentration. The advantage of video over pure audio is that we can watch the musicians in action. The timpanist uses hard sticks to explosive effect when required. The wind players seem to be having a field day throughout; the cellos turn in as gutsy a reading of the final movement of the 9th as one could wish. There is an air of concentration that comes over very strongly. Jordan claims they are the best players in France. It is hard to disagree.

If I were to describe these performances as conventional, that implies only that the orchestral layout is strings undivided, basses behind the cellos to the right, modern instruments in use: all a reflection of what usually meets the eye in a concert hall. The exception is the 9th where strings are divided. One wonders why only there? The key to the vitality of most of these readings is Philippe Jordan, who, in his early 40s, is quite obviously a man of massive talent. I had the good fortune to see him from the front of the arena conduct the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester at the 2016 Proms and it stood out as an utterly remarkable concert. Hearing this Beethoven set was opportune because it shows that that was no flash in the pan. Paris (and Vienna) have a valuable presence in Armin Jordan's son. He speaks admiringly of his father in the documentary but makes it quite clear that he is his own man. I cannot stress enough how strong a director he is throughout this Beethoven set. It is full of tight rhythms and emphatic accenting plus a sprinkling of relaxed moments. Only in the 9th did I wonder what was happening. Here he takes considerably longer than most over the finale, which clocks at over 26 minutes, nearly the length of the entire 8th, but Jordan's splendid orchestra and chorus have the space to play and sing every intricate detail of Beethoven's extraordinary, groundbreaking score. Their attack and precision never wavers even in the strange complexities of the final movement. For once I believe the bass when he bursts in with his plea to stop these tones and sing something upbeat! What a magnificent chorus this is and here they are joined by a team of soloists who sing together and never sound like competitors in a four-sided singing match - which is something that comes to mind in other famous recordings.

I will never cease to return to favourites old and less-old: Savall and Toscanini in No.3, Szell in No.5, Bohm in No.6, Konwitschny in No.7, Karajan in No.9, the period instrument groups like the Academy of Ancient Music, or the modern-but-historically-aware team in Minnesota (and that's just a selection from the 100+ recordings in my collection), but Jordan has something to say and collectors will not regret finding out what that is.

Video direction is restrained and free of visual acrobatics. The sound is very clear and up front.

Dave Billinge



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