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Beethoven: 9 Symphonies - de Vriend

Beethoven: 9 Symphonies - de Vriend

Challenge Classics  CC 72550 (6 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 1-9

Annemarie Kremer (soprano), Wilke te Brummelstroete (alto), Marcel Reijans (tenor), Geert Smits (bass)
Consensus Vocalis
The Netherlands Symphony Orchestra
Jan Willem de Vriend (conductor)


Over the past few years, Jan Willem de Vriend and The Netherlands Symphony Orchestra have made CD recordings of all the symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven. This box contains them all.

At an international level, Jan Willem de Vriend is more and more regarded as an outstanding conductor with a new, fresh point of view. As is his vision of Beethoven. Important classical magazines like Gramophone are enthusiastic about the series: "These are strong, thrustful performances which make sense in terms of the music in hand and the orchestra;s own character and competence. Jan Willem de Vriend has an intense passion for music. He will never stop investigating. Curiosity and eagerness are simply part of him and the way he works. And this means that, in his hands, music from the past comes to life, time and time again." (from the linernotes of Valentine Laout)

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - July 13, 2016

Beethoven sells. So well, that numerous sets of all 9 symphonies are available in multiple formats and continue to be issued. There are 27 sets in high resolution (SACD and Blu-Ray). A sizable number are native DSD recordings, but many companies, who happened to have them in their back catalogue, jumped the Hi-Res band wagon. Taking out the remastered versions, there still are no less than 11 contenders left to choose from. For those new to Hi-res not an easy task.

John Broggio has invested a lot in these sets and reviewed several in detail about a decade ago, and Graham Williams reviewed Raijki’s set earlier this month. So far there is one five star set listed (Haitink on LSO), but on the basis of individual reviews two further multi-channel SACD’s (Vänska on BIS and Järvi on RCA) qualify for the top league, followed by a 4-and-a-halve (Rajski on Tacet).

I tested another set of Beethoven symphonies by Jan Willem de Vriend and the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra on Challenge Classics, which somehow escaped the attention, either individually or as complete set. For comparison I put it up against the set of Paavo Järvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Bremen (RCA), of which John Miller reviewed each individually in great detail, and which set is so far my favourite.

As one would expect, many sets have their strengths and weaknesses (reason why many prefer to buy separates) and I’m afraid that de Vriend’s set is no exception.

His set has nonetheless two major strengths at its disposal. Firstly the use of, inter alia, natural brass and sticks for the tympani, giving the orchestra, together with semi HIP, its typical sound, highly suitable for joining the now fashionable ‘refreshed’ performance practices of Beethoven’s symphonies. The other strength pertains to Challenge Classics proven record of quality multi-channel recording, for which Bert van der Wolf and Northstar Recording Services are the guarantors.

For brevity I will refrain from comparing one by one all symphonies. I’ll try to keep it short by pointing at some of the notable differences. Moreover, suffice it to say that in practically all symphonies the playing of the Kammerphilharmonie is just that bit more precise and disciplined, with, on top of that, Järvi’s skillfully added accents and thrills which are missing in de Vriend's set. For example, the third movement of the ‘Pastoral’ is in Järvi’s rendition more blistering than the moderate thunderstorm in The Netherlands. Also, in the build up from the third to the fourth movement of the fifth, Järvi creates more tension leading to a more urging explosion at the start of it, which he then is able to sustain till the end.

But Paavo Järvi’s ‘tüchtigkeit’ has its adverse effects, too. For instance, his first movement of the 9th, marked ‘Maestoso’ is not quite ‘majestically, in a stately fashion’, unless, in his conception, the Majesty is an absolute ruler. That said I do realize that many will gladly accept a firmer hand, adding to the emotional thrill, especially in Beethoven’s most prominent Symphony. De Vriend’s vision follows Beethoven’s markings and (researched) intentions, here and elsewhere, much better, be it that in the final movement the Dutch soloists are not quite at par with the stellar cast Järvi had at his disposal (Oelze, Lang, Vogt and Goerne), although the Dutch choir is surprisingly good. For instance, the bass, Geert Smits, cannot match voice and recite of baritone Matthias Goerne. De Vriend seeks to compensate this with a hefty dose of jubilant heroism, which many will like, but is in stark contrast with Järvi’s perspective to keep textures light & lean, thus underscoring the festive character of the ‘Ode an die Freude’ (Ode to Joy).

As for the Heroic third symphony, de Vriend adopts a brisk pace, as is now customary, but Järvi is in the first movement one and a half minute brisker, which some may feel a bit on the (too) fast side. Fact is, however, that even at this speed the playing of the Kammerphilharmonie cannot be faulted, carrying the listener almost breathless to the calm of the following Marcia Funebre.

These are just some examples and whatever reading one prefers, Jan Willem de Vriend’s are amongst the best available, modern versions and should certainly be taken into consideration. The more so, because the highest rated sets do not all find unanimous approval, judging by the results under the ‘recommend’ button, whereas de Vriend’s score (as set) is 100 per cent (5 out of 5)

While the recording quality of the Challenge Classics set is undoubtedly very good, I find that RCA sounds slightly better, with more clarity, giving a better definition of all instruments, notably the woodwinds, but the larger size of The Netherlands Symphony Orchestra creates a wider sound stage.

In the final analysis and after careful scrutiny of the various elements, this set does not replace my preference for Paavo Järvi and his Bremer musicians, nor Osmo Vänskä, whose set scores high on the list as well. And Haitink? Good though he is, the set loses for me on the lesser sound quality. Tacet’s surround philosophy isn’t mine, so I won’t comment on it, but refer readers to Graham Williams’ extensive reviews.

On the question of separates versus a complete set the disadvantage of separates is twofold: doubles cannot always be avoided and the total price - for some a not to be neglected element - will in most cases be double as well.

The liner notes give no detailed information about the soloists or the text of the final movement of the 'Choral Symphony'.

Stars given is 'on average'.

Blangy-le-Château,
Normandy, France

Copyright © 2016 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Multichannel):

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