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CD Review

Ludwig van Beethoven

  • Symphony #5
  • Symphony #7
Dallas Symphony Orchestra/Jaap van Zweden
DSO Live 1
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I don't know how I missed this, or why everyone doesn't have it, but if you are in the market for some exciting Beethoven performances, recorded live, get this. The first in a series of – as of this writing – four live Dallas Symphony discs, this 2012 release surely deserves notice. Simply put, these are some of the most physically exciting renditions of these symphonies I have ever heard. Conductor Jaap von Zweden has a masterful ensemble at his disposal. He draws simply magnificent playing from the Dallas forces, allying swift and urgent tempos with a unique take on both pieces.

Certainly the conductors' experience as a concertmaster (with the Concertgebouw no less) aids in Zweden's ability to create his unique sound world. That's not to say he tries to make Dallas "Dutch" in any way. I can't see the Concertgebouw sounding like this under Haitink, for example. My point is that that Zweden seamlessly melds his understanding of what a great ensemble should produce with the strengths that his players already possess. So sure, the Dallas Symphony sounds terrific, captured in a marvelous acoustic, but also delivers a uniquely American "rough and ready" style to the works at hand.

The performances actually remind me a lot of Vänskä's early, live Beethoven recordings later released as cover albums for BBC Music magazines. Vänskä was then and is now a superlative conductor of these works, but he was hampered by both iffy sound and sometimes questionable ensemble. So I'm happy to report that these Dallas performances are very pleasingly engineered and much better played. The Fifth and Seventh both feature little touches that I haven't heard elsewhere. In the first movement of the Fifth especially, I hesitated on whether I felt this a good or bad thing, but it certainly does make you sit up and listen. The middle movements are excellent, and the finale is mercilessly driven and entirely exciting. In the Seventh, the first chord isn't as sharply defined as one has come to expect these days, but as the notes point out, this us exactly what the conductor wants. Briskly paced inner movements hold considerable tension, although every collector will have their preferred take on both works. The finale is again a knockout, a punch in the gut that never loses control.

As a live document and as a refreshing look at these masterpieces I can't recommend this highly enough. Audience noise and applause is happily minimal. The packaging for the whole series could be questioned, though. As an esteemed critic pointed out in reviewing this team's Tchaikovsky, not labeling one's discs with numbers makes it that much more difficult to market as a viable product, and if in-house labels want to survive, they have to help themselves in any way they can. Still, that's practically my only complaint; everything else is wonderful.

Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman