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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.3 in E flat Op.55 ‘Eroica’ [50:41];
15 Variations and Fugue in E flat Op.35 ‘Eroica Variations’ [23:31];
Bonus DVD[44:20]
Dirk Joeres (piano)
Westdeutsche Sinfonia conducted by Dirk Joeres
rec. 2016, Forum Leverkusen (symphony); 2017, Kulturzcentrum Immanuelskirche, Wuppertal (variations)

Dirk Joeres has received critical acclaim for many of his recordings. These include a highly regarded version of the Brahms Serenades which was selected by BBC Music Magazine as one of their 100 Top CDs. In this new release Heritage presents the second instalment of an on-going Dirk Joeres Beethoven symphony cycle featuring the Westdeutsche Sinfonia. Having enjoyed the orchestra’s recordings of the first and second symphonies, with its marvellous orchestral playing and a carefree feeling to the music making, I approached this new CD with a great deal of expectation. As with their previous coupling the Eroica also includes a DVD in which Joeres illustrates Beethoven’s compositional genius, performing excerpts on the piano and commenting on audio samples from the new recording. The Westdeutsche Sinfonia is a superb orchestra made up of players from eight major German symphony orchestras. This is a tightly drilled group that plays with real passion and refinement.

At over 17 minutes long the opening Allegro con brio is quite broad and massive in conception. This is offset by the conductor’s ability to point phrases with clarity, especially in the passages of interplay between the instruments of the woodwind section. There is a satisfying mixture of strength and forward momentum without the music being over-driven. The strings dig deep and have great attack and presence. The Marcia funebre is hushed and atmospheric with the strings excelling, especially the earthy cellos and basses. The first oboe entry could be cleaner but this is a live recording (there is no audible sign of an audience) which accounts for the electricity and tension in the playing. The Scherzo hardly ever fails and Joeres just gives the orchestra its head and they clearly enjoy themselves. The horns are suitably bucolic and rousing. In the Finale the playing is dramatic enough but somewhat relaxed. Those looking for high voltage Beethoven may be a bit disappointed here but this isn’t a bombastic Eroica. It’s a well-controlled Eroica with plenty of life, punch and clean articulation. The sound quality is suitably weighty and bright with the woodwind solos emerging with fine clarity. The brass section is kept in check and is somewhat restrained but the climaxes still have good impact.

The DVD is a fine bonus, pitched at a level to engage experienced listeners and also those coming to the music anew. In his informative analysis Joeres draws comparisons between Beethoven’s treatment of the variations in the finale of the Eroica symphony and the 15 variations he wrote for solo piano. This gives the listener further insights into how Beethoven worked. The Piano Variations cover a whole range of emotions from gentle wistfulness, right through to music of good humour and moments of virtuosic power. The work ends with a thrilling fugue. The performance by Joeres shows him to be a thoughtful virtuoso pianist. Despite being over 23 minutes long he ensures that this marvellously inventive piece never outstays its welcome. The recording is excellent. This is a really good value package from Heritage and it deserves every success.

John Whitmore


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