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17.12.12

Ionarts-at-Large: Mariss Jansons' Beethoven Cycle


I have lost track of Mariss Jansons’ Beethoven Cycle with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. It started some time in 2008 and was—and continues to be—spiced up with world premieres especially commissioned for the occasion. I remember Symphonies Three, Seven, Eight, and Nine (see sidebar); not the others. Either I missed them and their respective commissioned works, or they are being performed still. In any case, a box of the Beethoven symphonies (if BR Klassik has the wits and money, they’ll include the new works on an extra disc!), is to be released in the first half of 2013, in time for the Jansons’ 70th Birthday.

Certainly the program from November 9th—a one-off benefit to support, in essence, the local newspaper—fit the bill: Symphonies Two and Six were coupled with Misato Mochizuki’s Nirai, descriptively subtitled an “Intermezzo for Beethoven’s Second and Sixth Symphony”.

Beethoven performances should always sound like world premieres in themselves, which is one reason why this cycle is so particularly gratifying. It might not be a realistic goal, but it’s a healthy standard to aspire to. Jansons gets pretty close, pretty often. The Second Symphony, quite different from his recording with the Concertgebouw just a few years back (see also New York Soundtrack) was elegant, sleek and powerful, like a nimble yacht plowing through calm and stormy waters alike, with effortless grace. With joyous anticipation and a wry smile, Jansons put the baton down to kneed and massage the Larghetto personally into shape. The result was refined and supine, with greater emphasis on control than spontaneity. A spirited Scherzo was needed, and the short energetic stabs Jansons elicited in this plump third movement were just the thing. The fourth movement, not quite fulfilling the vigorous promise of the first, got heavier as it went on.



Jansons’ Beethoven on ionarts:


Symphony No.3 / Shchedrin, Heiligenstadt Testament Fragments WP (20.12.08)

Symphonies Nos.7 & 8 / Widmann, Con Brio WP (24.10.08)

Symphony No.9 / Kancheli, Dixi, WP (7.11.09)



Symphony No.3 / Shchedrin, Self-Portrait Variations (20.10.12)
On with the Misato Mochizuki’s pleasant Intermezzo: It plays with repetition and the repeated minor second at the end of the Beethoven Symphony’s fourth movement (in the winds & strings; see excerpts below the jump). My mental picture of Nirai as a soundtrack was that of a friendly, simple Giant, a bit dim but well-meaning one, happily disoriented by shimmering sounds and breaking twigs as he lumbers through the forest. Birds flit by and whistle (a nod to the Sixth Symphony, presumably), and are klutzily mimicked by the large string section. The birds quiet down eventually, leaving one to enjoy the work spiral toward coordinated ecstasy: then quiet reverb ending in suspended nothingness. The performance was briefly interrupted and re-started after a backbench violinist collapsed flat out from her pedestal, landing face first under the seat before her, atop her broken violin. After an anxious minute she managed to walk off stage more or less on her own, and word has it that, happily, it was but a temporary syncope from which she recovered just fine. (The things people do, to avoid playing contemporary music!)

With Nirai, Misato Mochizuki wanted to describe the dualism or interaction between two epochs, something along the lines of Socrates’ statement that Plato quotes in the Phædo, “that the living come from the dead, just as the dead come from the living.” Whether she has succeeded in that is hard to tell; it’s easier to tell that she has succeeded in writing a most captivating orchestral intermezzo that any orchestra might think of serving as a palate-cleanser before or after either the Second or Sixth of Beethoven’s Symphonies… or just on it’s own.

The closing “Pastorale” Symphony started in gentle, moderate tempo, not that river of hurried anxiety as many 21st century interpretative would (very effectively) have it. From there it meandered via a dainty, charming, passive second movement to a fleet and happy third, taken quickly but with thick enough boots not to become a “Lustiges Zusammensein der Ballettratten”… which is to say: just stilla happy gathering of country folk (as Beethoven prescribes), rather than a jamboree of excited twirlies. During the next two movements, the civil excitement of the symphony tapered off, without the exacting performances standard of the BRSO ever flagging.


Excerpt: Symphony No.2, 4th movement
(Philips)


Excerpt: Symphony No.2, 4th movement, 
(Decca)


Excerpt: Symphony No.2, 4th movement, 
(ZigZag)


Excerpt: Symphony No.2, 4th movement, 
(Supraphon)


Excerpt: Symphony No.2, 4th movement, 
(Deutsche Grammophon)


Excerpt: Symphony No.2, 4th movement, 
(Sony)


(Click to enlarge)