Beethoven • Brett Dean
Beethoven: Symphony No. 2; Brett Dean: Testament
Bavarian State Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski
Bayerische Staatsoper BSOREC 0002 46:12 mins
The concert from which this recording was made is loosely centred around the point in Beethoven’s life when he realised the hearing loss he was experiencing would be permanent. The crux is the ‘Heiligenstadt Testament’, Beethoven’s letter of 1802 describing his reaction; the music, Beethoven’s Second Symphony, written some few months before the fateful news, and Brett Dean’s Testament, imagining Beethoven’s creative approach, hearing dulled, some 200 years later.
Written in 2008 for the small symphonic forces that would have been used in Beethoven’s time, Testament begins in the imagined feverish movements of Beethoven’s quill as he tries to get down as much music as he can before he loses the ability to hear it, and roots itself in the reimagined sounds of tinnitus made into music. Unrosined bows scratch over strings, air is blown through noteless wind instruments. It’s an evocative, powerful work, incisively played by the Bayerische Staatsorchester under Vladimir Jurowski.
Equally fresh in its impact, Symphony No. 2 is filled with vigorous vitality and the struggle against fate. The first movement’s Allegro is bright and incisive, the sound from the orchestra under Jurowski full of energy. The Larghetto has eminent spaciousness.
Recorded at Munich’s National Theatre in 2020, the musicians perform standing as per historical performance practice; it also made the best of what Covid restrictions then required – socially distanced playing sounds better that way, according to Jurowski. With such a fine result, one is not inclined to argue.
Sarah Urwin Jones