BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21. Symphony No. 2 in
D, Op. 36. Symphony No. 3 in E flat, Op. 55 "Eroica." Symphony No. 4 in B flat, Op.
60. Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67. Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 "Pastorale."
Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92. Symphony No. 8 in F, Op.l 93. Symphony No.
9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral"
RAVEL: Daphnis and Chloé Suite No. 2. Valses
nobles et sentimentales. La Valse. Ma Mère l'Oye.
D'INDY: Symphony No. 2 in B flat, Op. 57. Tableaux de voyage, Op. 36.
Karadec, Op. 34.
Of course there are countless recordings of Beethoven's nine symphonies. Every conductor seems to want to have their thoughts on these masterpieces preserved, and many major conductors have recorded them in multiple versions. So one might wonder what could justify yet another. It would have to have something very special to offer. Well, this new one with Mikhail Pletnev is, indeed, a worthy addition to the select group of the best. Apparently this remarkable musician, a virtuoso pianist as well as a conductor, always wanted to record the Beethoven symphonies with the orchestra he organized in 1990, the Russian National Orchestra. After many concert performances over the years, on eleven days in the summer of 2006 the symphonies were taped. DGG's publicity states these performances have "knocked Beethoven off his museum perch and made him our contemporary"—whatever that means. What we have a series marked by incredible orchestral virtuosity and imagination. Pletnev's approach favors wide dynamics, tempi that are usually brisk. And Pletnev has own distinctive views that often are arbitrary, usually with exciting results. I imagine most listeners will find much of value here. The recordings were made in the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory with producer Matthias Spindler and engineers Rainer Maillard and Jürgen Bulgrin. They did a splendid job in capturing a natural, rich sound. Highly recommended, even for those who have numerous other Beethoven symphony recordings.
Young conductor Yannick Nézet-Ségun is a major addition to today's musical scene, both operatic and symphonic. Since September 2008 he has been Music Director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, succeeding Valery Gergiev, and this is the orchestra's first recording with their new leader. From a performance standpoint, this all-Ravel disk bodes well for the collaboration. The generally brisk tempi are carefully controlled and the Dutch orchestra is in top form. Michael Fine and his three engineers made the recordings in June 2007 in Rotterdam's Doelen Hall. Unfortunately, recorded sound lacks clarity, is distant, and bass-heavy. Some of the important brass punctuations in Daphnis are barely heard. No sonic spectacular here, although with this repertory it easily could have been.
There's no problem of any kind with the second issue in the Chandos series of orchestral works of Vincent d'Indy, the first of which was covered on this site (REVIEW). Volume II features Symphony No. 2, long a favorite of Pierre Monteux who recorded it in 1942 in San Francisco. The symphony, premiered in Paris in 1904, is dedicated to Paul Dukas. It is overly long (44:02) for its content, although it ends with an effective brass chorale. Less known are the two delectable fillers: Tableaux de voyage, the composer's arrangement for orchestra of six movements from his solo piano work of the same name, and Karadec, a suite of music for a drama by André Alexandre. As with the previous issue in this series, the Iceland Symphony is a first-rate orchestra, Gamba a sensitive conductor. As usual, the Chandos audio is outstanding. I look forward to further issues in this quality series.
R.E.B. (January 2010)