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Beethoven: The Symphonies and Reflections / Jansons, Bavarian Radio Orchestra

Beethoven / Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen
Release Date: 10/29/2013 
Label:  Br Klassik   Catalog #: 900119   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Johannes Maria StaudMisato MochizukiRodion ShchedrinRaminta eerkUnyte,   ... 
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Number of Discs: 6 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 3 Hours 26 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews





BEETHOVEN: THE SYMPHONIES AND REFLECTIONS Mariss Jansons, cond; Bavarian R Ch & SO BR 900119 (6 CDs: 417:08)


BEETHOVEN Symphonies 1–9. STAUD Maniai. MOCHIZUKI Nirai. SHCHEDRIN Beethovens Heiligenstädter Read more Testament. ŠERKŠNYT?E Fires. KANCHELI Dixi. WIDMANN Con Brio

The nine symphonies of Beethoven seem to always provide a right of passage. To conduct these works (and now to record them) is to attain the summit, the level in which one can be placed with, or at least compared to, the greatest conductors of the century. But how does one go about this project? Can or should one simply re-record the nine again? Or is there a way to relate them to the modern day? There were few composers who followed Beethoven who were not profoundly influenced by his groundbreaking music: From Berlioz, Schumann, and Brahms, to Wagner and Liszt, virtually every symphonically-oriented composer was inspired by his music. And so the seeds of this intriguing program were born out following history. When Mariss Jansons commissioned six contemporary composers to write works based on Beethoven’s, each one came to find some small aspect in his music which was used as the basis for a new composition: the only requirements being that the pieces should have a duration of about 10 minutes (only Kancheli’s Dixi breaks that rule, lasting a bit over 21 minutes) and that they should relate to a particular aspect of form or material in one of the symphonies. As two of the works reference two symphonies apiece, only the Fourth Symphony seemed not to provide inspiration for any of these composers.


If I were reviewing the Jansons recording based solely on the Beethoven I would come up with descriptive words such as suave, graceful, light in texture, period-influenced—dare I say middle-of-the-road?—interpretations. Yet in the wildly inventive and early First and Second symphonies the approach works extremely well, as Jansons takes swift tempos, though never overly so, and brings out especially the dance-like elements in the music—rarely, for example, after its dramatic opening, has the Finale to the First Symphony ever sounded so very like a Viennese dancehall. The Scherzo to the Second Symphony features some fabulous woodwind and brass playing, adding color, but never slowing down the fast pace of the movement. This is the way this music should be played: light, propulsive, yet highly dramatic. Jansons’s way works well even in pieces in which one might not think: in the normally heroic, even violent Fifth Symphony, the conductor finds a way to make the piece sound anew. In his hands the first movement swings and dances. This is not the C Minor which we normally associate with Beethoven, though; rather, throughout this performance I couldn’t help but think of Bach’s C-Minor Keyboard Partita, with its dramatic opening pages, followed by its numerous dance movements. Listening to the Jansons I truly felt the connection between these two great masters. Where I was most disappointed was in two of the more heroic symphonies, the Third and the Ninth. In the Funeral March to the “Eroica,” the slightly heavier, more brooding approach, and far slower tempos of conductors such as Karajan and Klemperer just work better. While the players here shape this music as well as any orchestra, I sorely miss the gravitas of those performances. The Ninth Symphony too suffers from a non-heroic approach. It is too easy flowing, too calculated in its effect; and while the singers are always fine, they do not quite reach the exalted levels of the best ensembles.


But there is so much more to this program than just the Beethoven and Jansons’s approach to the symphonies cannot be separated from the newly-commissioned works: In some instances his approach provides great contrast and in others it provides kinship. In the Austrian composer Johannes Maria Staud’s Maniai (the Greek name for the Three Furies) he was most influenced by Beethoven’s First Symphony; broken into two parts, furioso and grazioso , the work is, as the composer describes, a “juxtaposition of absolute delicacy with absolute wildness.” It is a noisy work in the furious sections—highly dissonant, filled with extreme rhythmic interplay between instruments. A great emphasis is put on the percussion section at climactic points. In its slower sections, the work is meditative, using long held notes with smaller pianissimo ornamental notes interspersed throughout.


Misato Mochizuki, hailing from Japan though now living in France, chose both the Second and Sixth symphonies for inspiration. Choosing eight notes from the end of the Second Symphony, the composer created her Nirai using predominantly the interval of a minor second, as she calls it, “the interval favored in contemporary music.” Upon listening to her work, one is hard pressed to say that it is Beethovenian, yet so intriguing is her use of glissandos, which abound throughout, and changes of timbre (was this somewhat inspired by Webern here?), that the work provides a perfect contrast between the sound worlds of the early 19th century and today. The Bavarians play this as if it were part of their everyday routine.


Rodion Shchedrin’s Beethovens Heiligenstädter Testament , which follows the performance of the “Eroica” Symphony (and from which it takes its inspiration) is headed Maestoso con grave . One can hear a connection between it and the Symphony in what Shchedrin writes is its spiritual journey: “from Darkness into Light!” It is brooding, serious, and heavy at its beginning, though throughout textures change and the mood lightens. Compared to some of the other works, it is a bit easier to follow in its more traditional use of both motives and—dare I say it?—melodic material.


For Raminta ?erk?nyt?, Beethoven’s progressive deafness proved to be one of the major inspirations for her piece Fires . While the slow and slowly progressing first section is at times ethereal, and sometimes reminiscent of the music in certain horror flicks (with the light peeking through the clouds, for example at the appearance of the solo violin), it is in the second part where the composer employs a series of new playing techniques, all for expressive purposes: “I imagined strange noises that you begin to hear when your hearing starts to fail.” Though the work begins calmly, its relationship to the Fifth Symphony is heard in its closing moments. The effect is palpable.


Coming after the Sixth Symphony on the CD but relying on the Ninth for its inspiration is Giya Kancheli’s Dixi for mixed choir and orchestra. Sounding a bit like both Carl Orff and Richard Strauss, the piece is filled with huge contrasts of textures and dynamics, as well as of instrumental and vocal sonorities. In its quieter moments the music is lush and flowing, its effect mesmerizing, even reflective. In the faster sections its effect can be brutally violent. Sung in Latin, the text, though fragmentary, seems also to adhere to the heroic musical narrative employed by Beethoven, moving from the opening line of “I lament the dead” to the last, in which “Truth conquers all.” The musical ending is climactic, the audience response appropriately rapturous.


The last work, Jörg Widmann’s Con Brio , relates to both the Seventh and Eighth symphonies. Whereas most connections are either motivically or intervalically drawn, this one is related in a different way: the scoring. Widmann’s orchestration throughout is lean, as, he finds, is Beethoven’s in the two symphonies. It is the reason why he believes Beethoven’s two aforementioned works are so full of the pathos with which the composer imbued them: “In my view, the reduced scoring is the very reason why he unleashes such musical fury in the first place.” Widmann’s score is highly dissonant, yet highly engaging, especially placed in its intended context.


Throughout these performances, whether one always agrees with the interpretations or not, the orchestra plays this music in a highly polished and convincing manner. What is so spectacular, in particular, is how their Beethoven sounds so new, so very fresh in this approach, while the contemporary works all sound as though the orchestral members have been playing this music for their whole lives, as though the music is in their blood. Captured in spectacularly vivid sound (all the performances here were recorded live either in Munich or Tokyo) this is surely one of the finest ways one can listen to the Beethoven symphonies in an entirely new context. Though if one still wants Beethoven a bit more heroic, in that old-school vein—and I do in certain instances, especially if I want to just hear them alone—then one had best stick with Karajan or Furtwängler, or Klemperer or Böhm. In the Third and Ninth symphonies, I certainly will. But for the rest and especially the new works, this is surely a hit.

FANFARE: Scott Noriega
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Works on This Recording

1. Maniai, for Orchestra by Johannes Maria Staud
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2011 
Venue:  Herkulessaal, München 
Length: 11 Minutes 21 Secs. 
2. Nirai, for orchestra (Intermezzo to Beethoven's Symphonies No. 2 and No. 6) by Misato Mochizuki
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2012 
Venue:  Herkulessaal, München 
Length: 8 Minutes 59 Secs. 
3. Beethoven's Heiligenstädter Testament, symphonic fragment for orchestra by Rodion Shchedrin
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2008 
Venue:  Philharmonie am Gasteig, München 
Length: 12 Minutes 8 Secs. 
4. Fires, for orchestra by Raminta eerkUnyte
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2010 
Venue:  Herkulessaal, München 
Length: 10 Minutes 33 Secs. 
5. Con brio, concert overture for orchestra by Jörg Widmann
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2008 
Venue:  Philharmonie am Gasteig, München 
Length: 11 Minutes 57 Secs. 
6. Symphony no 1 in C major, Op. 21 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 11/27/2012 
Venue:  Suntory Hall, Tokyo, Japan 
Length: 24 Minutes 10 Secs. 
7. Symphony no 2 in D major, Op. 36 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Period: Classical 
Written: 1801-1802; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 11/27/2012 
Venue:  Suntory Hall, Tokyo, Japan 
Length: 30 Minutes 6 Secs. 
8. Symphony no 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 "Eroica" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Period: Classical 
Written: 1803; Vienna, Austria 
Venue:  Herkulessaal, München 
Length: 47 Minutes 8 Secs. 
9. Symphony no 4 in B flat major, Op. 60 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Period: Classical 
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 11/26/2012 
Venue:  Suntory Hall, Tokyo, Japan 
Length: 32 Minutes 27 Secs. 
10. Symphony no 5 in C minor, Op. 67 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Period: Classical 
Written: 1807-1808; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 11/27/2012 
Venue:  Suntory Hall, Tokyo, Japan 
Length: 30 Minutes 49 Secs. 
11. Symphony no 6 in F major, Op. 68 "Pastoral" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Period: Classical 
Written: 1808; Vienna, Austria 
Venue:  Herkulessaal, München 
Length: 41 Minutes 53 Secs. 
12. Symphony no 7 in A major, Op. 92 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Period: Classical 
Written: 1811-1812; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 11/30/2012 
Venue:  Suntory Hall, Tokyo, Japan 
Length: 39 Minutes 26 Secs. 
13. Symphony no 8 in F major, Op. 93 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Period: Classical 
Written: 1812; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 12/01/2012 
Venue:  Suntory Hall, Tokyo, Japan 
Length: 25 Minutes 18 Secs. 
14. Symphony no 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Period: Classical 
Written: 1822-1824; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 12/01/2012 
Venue:  Suntory Hall, Tokyo, Japan 
Length: 39 Minutes 30 Secs. 
15. Dixi, for chorus & orchestra by Giya Kancheli
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2009 
Venue:  Herkulessaal, München 
Length: 21 Minutes 46 Secs. 

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