ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN - Symphonies Nos 1 and 7


LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN - Symphonies Nos 1 and 7 - Montreal Symphony Orchestra - Kent Nagano (Conductor) - 774204988722 - Released: March 2014 - Analekta AN29887

Ludwig van Beethoven was the "big bang" of the symphonic universe. Of course, symphonies had been written before him, but his were the catalyst for the expansion of the symphonic ideal, which led to bigger and better constructs of the form. So after every excursion out to the outer reaches of this musical planetary system, after orbiting the massive Jupiters like Mahler and Shostakovich, the Saturns like Brahms and Nielsen, and even the distant Neptunes like Rautavaara and Scheirbeck, it's always nice to come back to the solid central core of the symphonic repertoire, the Beethoven symphonies.

I've always felt that Beethoven's spirit and music transcend the boundaries of time and epoch, and therefore cannot be constrained to period rules and practices. Sorry to all of you who are proponents of the HIP (Historically Informed Performance) concept and members of its elitist club, but this new recording on the Analekta label with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Kent Nagano is spirited, robust, powerful, and up to the standards of a 21st century big city orchestra. The Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92 in particular is one of Beethoven's most upbeat, momentum driven, and musically innovative works, and these characteristics are all brought to the fore in this energetic performance. Kent Nagano established and developed his long standing career based on a strong German tradition and has, not only performed the Beethoven opuses many times over on the major world stages with various orchestras over the years, but has also recorded for Analekta in association with Sony Classical, a full cycle of Beethoven's symphonies. It would be safe to say that by now Beethoven's music is probably an extra line of code in his DNA. This electrically charged "live" recording is pointed, precise, dynamic, muscular and/or lyrical when required, and most of all spirited.

The Montreal Symphony Orchestra has always been a fabulous ensemble, easily comparable to some of the most reputable orchestras around the world. The recordings they released for Decca under the direction of Charles Dutoit were all sonically impressive. Unfortunately, I myself always thought there was one ingredient missing from most of their recordings, although I was never able to identify that missing ingredient until now. The extra dimension that conductor Kent Nagano has been able to instill into these musicians is character. Whereas before the music they produced seemed air-brushed and polished to a sheen, now they sound more like a living, breathing organism that not only plays the notes but actually pulls them off the score.

Jean-Yves Duperron - May 2014