March 2009

Beethoven - Symphonies 1 & 5
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen; Paavo Järvi, conductor
RCA 33835-2
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2009

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

This is the third installment in Järvi’s Beethoven symphony cycle with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmnonie Bremen, of which he is music director. It is the best in the set so far, presenting definitive performances in recorded sound that is close to perfect.

The Fifth Symphony is so well known that too many performers treat it with reverence rather than excitement. No problem with Järvi there; he goes for the jugular in a rip-roaring reading that extracts every last ounce of fury the music has to offer. He gets this result without being crude or crass; there’s plenty of lyricism along the way. The tempos are exceptionally fleet; the end of the last movement is one of those marvels where your pulse is pounding throughout. The second movement swaggers more than usual at the fastest clip for it that I remember hearing. The transition between the third and fourth movements has palpable suspense. The First Symphony is treated more dramatically than usual, too, and this approach works better than one might think.

The recorded sound is big and bold. All of the instruments have good definition and presence, and there’s ideal balance between strings and winds. The two-channel versions, CD and SACD, sound excellent, but the multichannel tracks have more presence and warmth with just the right balance among the five channels. The rear channels are rolled off in frequency, just as sounds bouncing around the hall would be in a live situation. It’s some of the most realistic and exciting multichannel sound I have heard for concert music.