Paavo Jarvi Conducts Beethoven’s Symphonies Nos 4 & 7

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: RCA Red Seal
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 4 & 7
PERFORMER: Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen/Paavo Jarvi
CATALOGUE NO: 88985328562  

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These recordings, made slightly more than a decade ago (why so long to release?) are already sounding a part of recent history, with lean strings and obtrusive winds, especially woodwinds which, together with the uniformly brisk tempos, can sometimes give the effect of Beethoven being even more manic in these two symphonies than he already seemed. There were times in the Seventh Symphony when I felt like an unwilling participant in a scene from Hitchcock’s film The Birds, with alarming peckings from all directions. The relentlessly non-legato style, again especially in the Seventh, does become wearing, in
a work that needs careful balancing not to seem oppressively insistent
and repetitive.

I found the reading of the Fourth more enjoyable, with an adequately mysterious opening, and a zestful surge into the Allegro vivace, but then a willingness on Järvi’s part to relax the tempo. The second movement is a get-up-and-go Adagio, but it still contrives finally to give a sense of tranquillity and repose. And the false starts and endings of the last two movements are mischievous in just the right way.

The German Chamber Philharmonic is clearly a collection of expert players, who can maintain perfect co-ordination under testing circumstances. All told, these are not the kind of performances that I would want to live with, because there are sacrifices in such a daredevil approach to these venerated works, but it is bracing.

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Michael Tanner