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Friday, October 5, 2018

Beethoven Symphonies 2/7, Philippe Jordan, Wiener Symphoniker

If I mentioned Beethoven yesterday for his central role in creating the idea of a poetic and brilliant treatment of orchestral forces and so as the true father of orchestration as we know it in the time of New Music, all the better today that we have some new release showing that very thing. Philippe Jordan and the Wiener Symphoniker are a fair ways along in their release of a Beethoven Symphony Cycle. That such a thing is a cause of joy would seem to be the case based on the latest volume I have been listening to very happily, namely the Beethoven Symphonies 2/7 (SONY Music 610 SM).

When you think of a Viennese Beethoven Cycle you might naturally think of an extraordinarily disciplined performance and that beautiful presence of winds and horns like you are unlikely to hear from other orchestras. Not quite like that anyway when you are out of town. Vienna has never been a city who thinks that when it comes to Beethoven, just get the feeling right and do not sweat the details.  These symphonic pairings up today beautifully reflect the Viennese urgency of the details-as-huge-part-of-a careful-whole performance ethos.  Jordan and the Vienna masters give us all we might expect. And then they go a step further and give us the best we might ask for, a kind of making it all seem new again. That is ideal.

And maybe that is especially a surprise with the Second Symphony. As you listen to this version you imagine what it might have sounded like to you before there were Symphonies 3 to 9, instead of how we usually hear it, as a way station on route to the revelations of Symphonies 3, 5, 6, 7 and 9. And when listening in sequence as I have often done in my hearing world it passes like the tick of a clock on its way to the midnight of the 9th, or even as a necessary but intermediate step before that burst of feeling and revolution that was and is the Eroica.

I have especially long appreciated an old recording of Toscanini doing the Second, and he does wonderful things with it. Yet nothing might quite prepare you for the Jordan-Wiener take. Suddenly, it seems like its own Eroica, so to speak, that is, a very bold orchestral work for its place in the time of its time. Jordan brings to us the logic of Beethoven's orchestration/scoring, lets us feel how each part vividly takes place within the whole of each phrase, how every part of the orchestra has a hand, an important hand in the making of the sound of the finished whole.  Before this in a way you might just hear the strings run through a Haydn or a Mozart opus and in the end and often enough you would not miss all that much. Not with the Beethoven of the Second! No way. And so with this new reading you sense all the interpenetrations of parts with parts and how as a meta-organism the music thrives with incredibly appropriate touches that Jordan and the Weiner people handle as no one has quite done it before. It is joy.

As for the Seventh we may feel on hearing this fresh re-working that perhaps before we have been guilty of viewing it as more of an afterthought in the high pantheon of the great symphonies than it should be. It stands tall, second to none in the Jordan performances. Well no, second thought nothing can ever quite reach the heights of the 3rd and the 9th, but nonetheless, this reading of the 7th worries over every essential detail and then not only sounds each particle within the whole but also more-or-less makes every particle have a strong musical personality latent within the notes themselves but also pulled out of the air by grasping Beethoven as a very particulate whole!

It is for all these reasons that I do recommend these readings to you most heartily. There is a making new indeed, for virtually every bar rings out with a special clarity that rivals all the very best readings I have heard. The strings phrase as one in individual ways that take away the breath. Horns and winds are ultra-articulate and give us so much, a balanced and creative reading of what Beethoven very much intended we hear.  The recording quality is superior and with these performances you will get a great deal out of this whether you have heard hundreds of performances or none at all before. If you are feeling the need for this then do not hesitate. Or even if you do not think you need it for that matter. You probably do.

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