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Beethoven: Symphonies No 1 & 5 / De Vriend, Netherlands Symphony Orchestra

Beethoven / Netherlands Sym Orch / De Vriend
Release Date: 03/08/2011 
Label:  Challenge   Catalog #: 72364   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Jan Willem de Vriend
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BEETHOVEN Symphonies: No. 1; No. 5 Jan Willem de Vriend, cond; Netherlands SO CHALLENGE CC72364 (SACD: 56:19)

This is Volume 2 of a cycle-in-progress of the Beethoven symphonies, Volume 1 of which I reviewed in Fanfare 34:4. I was, on the whole, quite positive, though I reserved judgment until further volumes were issued. Vriend, like Herreweghe and Järvi before him, has benefited from the research and recordings of the period-instrument movement; Read more what’s different is a less dogmatic approach than those of the earlier pioneers or of more recent antiques-only cycles. This orchestra can summon the kind of power we associate with modern ensembles, and Vriend isn’t loath to take a more leisurely stroll around this familiar scenery.

That said, those familiar with, and appreciative of, the kind of performances produced by the conductors named above will have no qualms about these new ones. The performance of the First Symphony is exuberant, playful, and full-bodied (and the Menuetto is uncut). Compared to Järvi (with an identical program, RCA), the acoustic is more reverberant, resulting in a sound that is more atmospheric and resonant than RCA’s drier production. Järvi is unflinchingly fleet while Vriend allows the music more room to breathe; otherwise, they are very similar performances, though I prefer Vriend’s recorded sound.

The first movement of the Fifth Symphony is urgent and peremptory while the second is very much con moto , though its more powerful characteristics tend to over-balance the songlike qualities. The spirited third movement Allegro is an interesting amalgam of fluidity and discontinuity: the variant of the Scherzo theme becomes atomized almost to the exclusion of the melody—it’s all a bit too analytical, at least until the lead-in to the finale. The powerful forward momentum of that movement robs the music of some of its grandeur. Gardiner (Archiv), at a similarly brisk tempo, manages to make the movement sound less harried and more triumphant. A measure of elegance returns with the echo of the Scherzo, and then the performance plays out to the end in bumptious exuberance.

I like the fullness of the orchestral sound of these performances, and Vriend’s combination of period and modern instrumentation and practice is quite successful. This is a cycle to watch, and it may ultimately be the benchmark for the new “third stream” in Beethoven recordings.

FANFARE: Christopher Abbot


On first acquaintance, a listener familiar only with the "popular" Beethoven symphonies would hardly recognize Symphony No. 1 as a work by the same composer (instead probably thinking of Haydn, or perhaps Mozart). Yet Jan Willem de Vriend and the Netherlands Symphony succeed in bringing out the nascent "Beethovenian" elements of the score--especially in the finale (which, interestingly, de Vriend takes slower than you would expect from his quick tempos in the first movement and scherzo). De Vriend achieves this by emphasizing the music's dynamic contrasts, underlined by pointed and powerful timpani playing.

Winds and brass are also prominent (including "watery" sounding horns), which is all to the good. However, the period-styled strings slightly annoy in Symphony No. 5, where the players' apparent inability to sustain long notes undercuts some of Beethoven's effects--most notably the dramatic held G at the end of the first statement. Here it wimps out quickly, requiring de Vriend to rush to the next phrase.

But this is the only flaw in an otherwise enthralling performance, a rendition that, especially in juxtaposition to the First symphony, reveals the work's revolutionary nature. The first movement blazes, the Andante glides, the scherzo stalks, and the finale becomes a euphoric release of all the previously accumulated tension. The recording's narrow-focused acoustic (albeit with a solid sense of depth) projects the power of the playing. Despite the above concerns, this is a Beethoven symphony disc that had every good reason to be made. You really should hear it.

--Victor Carr Jr, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 1 in C major, Op. 21 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Jan Willem de Vriend
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria 
Symphony no 5 in C minor, Op. 67 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Jan Willem de Vriend
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1807-1808; Vienna, Austria 

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