Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Beethoven - Symphonies Nos 1 2 3 / Michael Gielen SWR Symphony Orchestra|
Actors: Michael Gielen, Eroica, Swr Sinfonieorchester
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
The Start of Gielen's Live Beethoven Symphony Series
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 01/19/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Michael Gielen is a conductor whom I've admired for years, having gotten to know his work when he was at the helm of the Cincinnati Symphony in the 1980s. He had, and has, a reputation for being a proponent of the newest and most difficult works; for instance, he conducted the world première of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's extraordinarily complex opera, 'Die Soldaten.' And for most of the 1990s he was chief conductor of the orchestra featured here, the Southwest Radio Symphony Orchestra of Baden-Baden and Freiburg (SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden/Freiburg), a group whose reputation for playing the newest and farthest-out music is well deserved. For years, going back to the 1950s, it was the home orchestra for the avant-garde Donaueschingen Festival. Known then only as a formidable composer, Pierre Boulez made his first conducting forays with this orchestra. Among its former music directors were such new music advocates as Hans Rosbaud and Ernst Bour. Its current director is Hans Zender. So why, one might ask, are we getting a series of DVDs of live performances by this orchestra in the music many consider to be the bedrock of classical orchestral music, the Beethoven symphonies? Well, aside from being a new-music conductor, Gielen has also made a strong reputation for re-imagining the classic repertoire, dusting those pieces off, so to speak. Long before very many others were playing Beethoven at the speeds indicated by the composer's metronome markings--it was generally thought that Beethoven's markings were off because he was deaf or because he had a faulty metronome, or some such reasoning--Gielen was playing these works as written. Now, of course, others have begun to come around. David Zinman, in his fabulous Beethoven symphony series of CD recordings on Arte Nova, is one of those. Still, this traversal of these first three symphonies are not races to the finish as some of the HIP conductors make them. (Speed-demon Roger Norrington comes to mind.) No, what these are are fairly classically conceived performances whose forward motion seems utterly logical and right. Meanwhile, Gielen has gotten lean, clean articulation and phrasing from his orchestra. His timpanist uses wooden sticks, but otherwise there are no 'original instruments' to be seen. Vibrato of a lean but clearly discernible sort is used.
Both Symphony No. 1 and 2 sound like the classic-mold symphonies they are. One easily hears their kinship to late symphonies of Haydn. There is more than a trace of bucolic gentleness to be heard in the slower movements, like the First's Andante or the Second's second movement trio and both finales fizz with excitement.
When we come to the Eroica things change, of course. There has been a huge growth in Beethoven's symphonic thinking here. Still, one can hear connections with the earlier two symphonies, even in the funeral march which is taken slightly faster than one generally hears. The tempo does not detract from the pain here, indeed it adds a kind of inexorability to it. The first movement starts with abrupt chords (again with timps played with wooden mallets) that tell us this is not a comfortable symphony here, but one with drama and fire. Gielen molds the sprawling architecture of this first movement with complete and convincing control. In the finale, that enormous set of variations on the theme that Beethoven used so often, and after the dramatic introduction, we get a kind of rustic feeling, almost a foreshadowing of the 'Pastorale' or the Eighth Symphony. This is not a granitic Eroica, but a very human one.
Visually there is possibly too much intercutting between various orchestral musicians--although it must be said that the visual presentation is absolutely crystal clear, in super-sharp focus and a real pleasure to watch. There are occasional shots that could have been left out--did we really need to see the oboist scratching his nose?--but on the whole the editing has been done very musically. (And there is a closeup of one gentleman in the front row of the audience in the performance of the Second who had me scrambling to see if he was Gian Carlo Menotti. He wasn't, but it was certainly a momentary distraction.)
These performances were recorded in 1998 (No. 2, Freiburg Konzerthaus) and 2000 (Nos. 1 & 3, Baden-Baden Festspielhaus) and there were some noticeable changes in the orchestral personnel (two different sets of flutists, for instance) but otherwise the orchestra sounds the same in both venues. Gielen is a no-nonsense conductor who stands ramrod straight, conducts from score which he consults rather assiduously (although one assumes he knows these scores backwards and forwards). His gestures are economical and telling. His tempo and phrasing indications are particularly clear.
The DVD comes in NTSC 4:3 format, a choice of PCM, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 sound. The menu is in English; the few subtitles in German. Running time: 110 minutes. I have not seen the highly touted set of DVDs featuring Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic, but for now I'm quite satisfied with this present DVD and look forward to the rest of the series.
J Scott Morrison | 06/24/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Altogether fine in sight, sound, and performance. Gielen takes all first-movement repeats it tempos that pretty much match my inner ones. I recently bought the Karajan set from the 1980s, and I was very disappointed--sound was lacking in many details and I got tired of watching Herbie's beautifully coiffed hair and not much else. I have all the Gielens (3 disks) and they go on the shelf with the Klemperer, Walter and Toscanini. They are THAT good!"