Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.1 in C Op.21 [26:08]
Symphony No.2 in D Op.36 [34:09]
Westdeutsche Sinfonia/Dirk Joeres
rec. March/September 2015, Forun Leverkusen
Includes bonus DVD
HERITAGE HTGCDBT1 [61:10 + DVD 45:00]

Dirk Joeres has received critical acclaim for many of his recordings. These include a highly regarded version of the Brahms Serenades, selected by BBC Music Magazine as one of their 100 Top CDs. Heritage has now embarked on a complete Beethoven cycle featuring the Westdeutsche Sinfonia. Each release will include a bonus DVD in which Joeres illustrates Beethoven’s compositional genius, performing excerpts on the piano and commenting on snippets from the new recordings. The DVD accompanying this first release concentrates on Symphonies 1 and 2.

In such a crowded market it is really difficult to make firm recommendations. However, the Westdeutsche Sinfonia is a superb orchestra made up of players from eight major German symphony orchestras. They deserve to be heard. This is a tightly drilled group that plays with real passion.

The First symphony is presented with clear articulation and rhythmic drive. There is an on-going feeling of forward propulsion. Joeres places quite a lot of emphasis on clear accentuation, without ever becoming aggressive or hectoring. The symphony dances in his hands, as can be heard in his unfolding of the main theme of the first movement at 1:30, and the third movement Menuetto. The Andante cantabile is paced just right and moves ahead unfussily. The string playing is cleanly pointed (for example the runs in the Menuetto’s trio section) and sounds as fresh as new paint. The Finale goes at a fair old pace but the Westdeutsche Sinfonia, being one of chamber orchestra proportions, makes sure that every note is heard under Joeres’s keen direction. This is a bustling, bright and breezy interpretation.

The Second symphony offers more scope for drama and romanticism, and Joeres does not disappoint. Despite the use of a relatively small band, the forte passages in the opening Allegro con brio are perfectly weighty and satisfying. The strings really dig in. As in the first symphony, rhythmic thrust and detail are to be heard in abundance. The Larghetto is quite sublime. Some will find the phrasing just a bit too romantic for their taste and maybe the lily is close to being overgilded but what lovely playing this is. In contrast, we then return to more bustle and bite in the Scherzo and Allegro molto with excellent woodwind contributions in both movements and plenty of adrenalin flowing.

There is much to enjoy in these recordings, with marvellous orchestral playing and a carefree feeling to the music making. The playing is highly detailed and relaxed. The lack of bombast and aggression in the louder passages is to be applauded. The performances are unbuttoned and refined. The sound quality is vivid, forward and clear, lacking just a little in atmosphere and bloom. The DVD is a fine bonus, pitched just about right to engage experienced listeners and also those coming to the music anew. Those who buy this package will be content with their purchase. I am eager to hear how the orchestra faces up to the blockbusters of the cycle, especially the Eroica and the Seventh.

John Whitmore

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