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Beethoven: Symphonies 1-9 - Noseda

Beethoven: Symphonies 1-9 - Noseda

National Symphony Orchestra  NSO0013 (7 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Beethoven: Symphonies 1-9

Camilla Tilling (soprano)
Kelley O'Connor (mezzo)
Issachah Savage (tenor)
Ryan McKinny (bass-baritone)
The Washington Chorus
National Symphony Orchestra
Gianandrea Noseda (conductor)

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Resolutions (3)
  • 2.0 DTS HD MA 24bit/192kHz
  • 5.0 DTS HD MA 24bit/192kHz
  • Dolby Atmos 24bit/48kHz
Reviews (2)

Review by Adrian Quanjer - February 10, 2024

Beethoven is still going as strong as ever. The number of recorded symphonies is staggering. In high resolution alone, there are already hundreds of singles and no less than 27 complete sets. Of these, not all are original Hi-Res recordings. But even if one takes out remastered versions, some 11 contenders remain, to which Gianandrea Noseda’s survey of the complete Beethoven symphonies at the helm of the Washington D.C.-based National Symphony Orchestra is to be added.

As Noseda maintains a remarkable degree of consistency in each of the symphonies, albeit commensurate with their typical characteristics, I won’t go into detail about every single one of them. Noseda’s vision is musically solid and never outrageous. He is not trying to ‘re-define’ or ‘re-invent’ Beethoven. His survey is one with a sense of honesty, conveying pure sang Beethoven with intensely passionate precision and hugely inspired power.

Moreover, in these exciting readings, he creates an orchestral fabric that has on the one hand the airy textures and flexibility of a chamber orchestra avoiding on the other the heavy-handedness of the large symphony orchestras of the past. What the listener gets is Gianandrea Noseda, leading a superbly crafted American orchestra, combining exuberant Italian passion with stylistic Viennese élan. Anyone looking for a new set of Beethoven symphonies, do count these blessings.

It is the Third that has impressed me most. An energetic first movement, eclipsing most chamber-light recordings, whilst also challenging, straight from the high-spirited start, most of the rest of the pack. It must be Noseda’s Italian blood that makes the listener's adrenaline flow freely. Spine-chilling heroics, leaving no one indifferent. Everything in the Third is ‘spot on’, including a dramatic Funeral March and a finale which turns into a thrilling and compelling dance party.

Another highlight that triggered my attention was the Eighth. This often underestimated and therefore neglected symphony regains under Noseda’s baton its rightful place. His agile yet robust reading makes it an edifying and brilliantly blossoming affair, dancing from beginning to end like a buoyant string of pearls in the wind.

As for the Second, Noseda puts a firm dose of passionate fire into the first movement, lifting it out of the many routinely performed versions having adequate ‘allegro’ but lacking much of the ‘con brio’. Under Noseda’s baton, this one becomes another of the nine that gets a new lease of life with an elegantly played Larghetto and a vibrant final movement.

But there are more, often surprising moments, vying for attention. For instance, from the moment he caught my ear in the second movement of the Fourth, I’ve been following Timpanist, Jauvon Gilliam, throughout the cycle. Once you are focused on it, you’ll find that his impetus, like, for example, unlashing ‘das Gewitter’ in the Sixth, and his so vividly underpinning the last two movements of the Seventh, reinforces the conductor’s forward thrust. One senses an arc of understanding between the two. Isn’t that incredible? The more one listens to Noseda and his crew, the more one gets involved. The orchestra might as well be called: Noseda’s Symphony Orchestra.

For choosing a complete set, Beethoven’s Ninth is seen by many as the final exam to earn the seal of public approval. It also is an epic monument drawing comments from pros and cons. Many pertain to speed and the choral part at the end of the final movement.

Regarding speed, Beethoven was among the first to promote the metronome, using it to indicate in the score the speed he wanted. However, scholars have questioned the wisdom and the hypothesis of metronome failure resulting in unreasonable speed markings. Many conductors have decided to disregard Beethoven’s markings and to apply their own interpretative pace. Nonetheless, the markings offered an open invitation to criticise a conductor's reading as being too fast or too slow.

However, whether or not a conductor’s pace is too fast or too slow is not the real issue. In concert, it is all about interpretation and its perception by an audience. In other words: The spontaneous intensity and the invisible two-way current passing between performers and an audience is the ultimate yardstick of a successful performance. Live recordings, like this one, bear witness to such an elusive effect.

By giving the Ninth its all-embracing impact, Noseda has pulled all the stops: A full complement of musicians and a choir of around 160 singers. In the First movement, Noseda succeeds in building up a kind of almost haunting tension, and in the Second returns the magical maestro-drummer connection. Too fast? No, just right; preparing for the following deliciously shaded Adagio molto e cantabile.

The finale with -a novelty in the history of symphonic music- a choral part with soloists dedicated To the Joy, the joy of life, an uplifting close to a unique and imposingly rendered Choral Symphony. It is Unique, too, in that it poses an enormous burden on the singers, as they are in Beethoven’s conception an integral part of the orchestral instruments, with hardly a tonal upper limit for the sopranos and tenors!

A perfect command of the German language is imperative for Schiller’s poetic opening lines. The highly respected American Bass-Baritone, Ryan McKinny, has successfully taken on this challenge. The other soloists are of a similar stature. In Noseda’s reading, they are part of the orchestral fabric, perhaps a well-considered choice in the face of the formidable singing power of the excelling Washington Chorus, but as a result, the soloistic competence of notably the female voices did not altogether stand out clearly.

Assuming that those who are part of the exclusive Hi-Res niche market will have playback systems that can fully profit from the highest possible resolution technical advance can manage, will appreciate that NSO has opted for Sound Mirror’s Sobotka/Donahoe team, being one of the best, if not the best recording engineers in the world. With its well-balanced soundstage, amazing depth, strong bass line and, no doubt through the art of successful multi-miking, creating a perfect nuancing of instruments or groups of instruments, it is exactly what one gets here.

This new Beethoven cycle with excellent liner notes by Peter Laki and graphic art by Mo Willems, is in my view an indisputable candidate for a well-considered choice, the more so, since there is an attractive ’set’ price available through the usual vendors.

Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.

Copyright © 2024 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Multichannel):

stars stars

Review by Graham Williams - March 7, 2024

In 2005 the BBC Philharmonic, led by Gianandrea Noseda, created quite a buzz with their live recordings of Beethoven symphonies, garnering 1.4 million download requests. Fast forward 16 years, and Noseda, now in his seventh season as the Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington DC, revisits these timeless masterpieces in a thrilling new cycle.

Noseda's philosophy on Beethoven is unequivocal: "Beethoven’s voice is as fresh and powerful today as it was when he created those masterpieces. To approach Beethoven is a journey. You know you are starting the journey, but you never know where the journey will take you. With Beethoven any moment is a discovery."

This journey, as reflected in these performances, is undoubtedly a brisk one. Noseda adopts fast speeds across all nine symphonies, often aligning with Beethoven's disputed metronome markings. However, the boundless energy and rhythmic incisiveness with which these renditions are delivered will be embraced by many listeners. Noseda wisely retains all repeats, but opts not to divide his violins antiphonally, thus deviating from period practices. Yet, the quicksilver speeds and the use of hard sticks on timpani provide a nod to historical interpretations. While moments of repose in slow movements are scarce, the overall impact is compelling.

A notable strength of these performances lies in their avoidance of interpretive mannerisms that plague some recordings. Noseda lets the music speak for itself within his defined parameters while the National Symphony Orchestra, especially the woodwind and horn sections, earns praise for both the elegance of their playing and their fearless execution.

In the finale of the Ninth Symphony the large, and clearly well-trained, Washington Chorus impresses with its forceful delivery and fine diction. Among the soloists bass-baritone Ryan McKinny and tenor Issachah Savage stand out for their fervent and powerful singing, while Camilla Tilling and Kelley O’Connor seem somewhat overshadowed.

Recorded live between January 2022 and June 2023 at the John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts, these performances are captured on five SACDs. Thanks to the efforts of the Soundmirror engineering team the sound quality is immediate and crisply focused throughout the cycle with a notably strong reproduction of the bass end of the spectrum. Although any traces of an audience are absent, unfortunately the conductor's audible exhalations and exhortations, particularly in the 4th and 5th Symphonies, remain and could become more than a slight irritation on repeated listening.

The remaining two discs, presented on Pure Audio Blu-ray, offer multiple audio streams (5.0 DTS-HD MA 24bit / 192 kHZ, 2.0DTS-HD MA 24bit / 192 kHZ, and Dolby Atmos ). Disc 6 holds Symphonies 1-6, while Disc 7 features the remaining three symphonies in addition to a high-definition filmed performance of the Ninth Symphony from the 3rd of June 2023, showcasing Noseda's considerable dynamism on the podium.

Each of the discs in this set are most attractively presented in sleeves illustrated by artist Mo Willems (Artist-in-Residence at the Kennedy Centre) whose striking and colourful abstractions – one for each of the nine symphonies – are reproduced in the lavish accompanying booklet.

This set makes a valuable addition to the ever burgeoning recordings of Beethoven Symphonies in high-resolution sound on disc, and while not necessarily supplanting other cycles will certainly join them as a solid recommendation to prospective purchasers.

Copyright © 2024 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Multichannel):

stars stars
Comments (10)

Comment by hiredfox - January 31, 2024 (1 of 10)

Glad that this collaboration with LSO Live is still going. Anybody planning to review this set?

No shortage of brilliant performances of these masterpieces on SACD and Noseda is a bit of a jack of all trades. Nevertheless we shouldn't just let this set slip by unnoticed.

Comment by DYB - February 11, 2024 (2 of 10)

I've been purchasing these as they've been released individually, downloading in DXD format from NativeDSD. (These were recorded in DXD). So far I've listened to 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7 - and I must say... these are excellent performances. Does the world need another Beethoven cycle? Yeah, why not LOL! And this one is very exciting. Noseda, as you say, is a jack of all trades. He does some things very very badly (I am absolutely hating his very boring Tchaikovsky with the LSO). But these are tight and very nicely played. The recorded sound is, not surprisingly, superb. This is going to be a question of: Do you want another Beethoven cycle and do you have any interest in Noseda? If your answer is Yes to either of those questions, it's worth your time. IMO.

Comment by Steven Harrison - February 14, 2024 (3 of 10)

Hi DYB,
How are you playing the DXD files?

Comment by DYB - February 14, 2024 (4 of 10)

Steven, I play DXD and other files from my desktop using JRiver, then through a DAC.

Comment by Steven Harrison - February 15, 2024 (5 of 10)

Yes of course, something normal.
I have a Ruby player and it was designed before DXD became a playback format.

Not sure if I want more Beethoven. But it is intriguing to have these available for the playback in the original recording format. DXD has now become the more defacto high resolution recording format for the studios with the Horis recording system. DSD256 would likely be indistinguishable to DXD, or so Nativedsd says.

Comment by hiredfox - February 16, 2024 (6 of 10)

Still an amazing SACD player.

Comment by Steven Harrison - February 16, 2024 (7 of 10)

The Ruby is also a very good USB DAC that plays DSD256 files. I almost entirely play discs. But I have played Ivan Fischer's Song of the Earth DSD256 files. I thought the sound to be extraordinary. DSD256 files are expensive, far more than an sacd disc.

Comment by hiredfox - February 21, 2024 (8 of 10)

Shows how important is sample rate.

Comment by DYB - March 6, 2024 (9 of 10)

Adrian's review above reflects my own impressions about this cycle. It really is very very good. I only disagree on one point: the bass Ryan McKinny, who sounds very wobbly to me. Disappointing choice here and the world is not lacking in good bass/baritones.

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - March 12, 2024 (10 of 10)

I do not altogether disagree, but as far as I know, Ryan McKinny was a last-minute stand-in for the originally programmed German bass-baritone Hannno Müller-Brachmann. That said, I did find his German diction slightly better than that of bass-baritone Shenyang in Honeck/Pittsburgh. A matter of personal appreciation, of course.