Review by georgeflanagin March 13, 2009 (11 of 11 found this review helpful)
Another worthy release in this series. As with the 4&7 and 3&8 discs, more is revealed in the lesser known symphonies. The sound is close and well defined. Good Fifth, but buy it for the standard setting First.
- the performances
- the sound
Sym #5: I suppose we unconsciously rate new performances of this most commonly recorded of symphonies with our personal benchmark standard. I want to be reminded that Beethoven was not yet 40 years old and on the cusp of "middle age" when I hear this symphony performed. My favorite has been the Carlos Kleiber VPO recording from the 1970s. Jarvi stacks up well enough in the first movement: no so much duration on the fermatas as some, but he doesn't turn it into Haydn either.
Movement two is fine, but it is not the core of this work. Movement three provides a steady buildup to tension for the glorious 1-3-5 triad that opens the finale. Like Kleiber three decades ago, Jarvi has the measure of this symphony, placing the weight in the last movement's driving for a finish.
Jarvi's finale is the new threat to my insurance rates. When the Kleiber performance was first issued on CD, I recall listening to it for the first time in my car as I drove from SFO airport at dusk on a summer evening. As the finale pounded along, I drove faster and faster on a nearly empty I-280, and wound up missing the Santa Cruz exit. Jarvi has the requisite momentum to encourage speeding.
Sym #1: This is the crown jewel, displacing my previous favorite, the Simon Rattle VPO performance of a couple of year back on EMI. The symphony opens with the chords that do not belong at the beginning of any piece of music, and Jarvi gives us that feeling that we walked in on a symphony already underway by opening a door to the concert hall. He gives us a minute to find our seats, and then we cut loose.
The Andante that follows is like chamber music in its moments of intimacy, with the orchestral color restlessly seething in anticipation of the third and fourth movements. Jarvi succeeds in making the opening of the finale seem alien and out of place. At the end of the movement, the listener is convinced the Age of Beethoven has begun.
In an earlier review for sa-cd.net, Mark Wagner described 4&7 as having superb sound, and this disc has good sound, too. I think the microphones have been moved for this recording, and there is less hall sound. I would describe the sound as so transparent and free of reverberation that this 5&1 disc would be good for teaching the score.
The strings are 8-7-5-5-3 for both symphonies, and the sound of the 'cellos and double basses is unusually close. Sym #1 is a grueling workout for Stefan Rapp (what a great name!), the timpanist, and each drum stroke is heard with in-the-room clarity.
Listeners with rooms that are more live than my room may not notice the "dead" sound of the recording space. There is a welcome freedom from background noise, and I did not notice any glaring edits.
At the price, it is worth it for Symphony #1, even if your personal collection has six or more #5s.
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