Beethoven: The Symphonies

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When Mariss Jansons took the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra to Japan last year, their Beethoven cycle was filmed in Tokyo’s Suntory Hall, and this collection of DVDs, each lasting about two hours, is the result.

A good place to start – and by far the most illuminating part of the package – is the 45-minute sequence of rehearsal clips on the first disc. Filmed over three days, it shows Jansons and his musicians at their Munich home, working through the Eroica, the conductor’s favourite. Interviews with him and selected musicians are interspersed with full orchestra sessions, during which Jansons talks as much about the transcendental world of the symphonies and his musicians’ “inner energy” as he does about crescendo and diminuendo. He works hard on detail, and is not shy of asking a horn player to cross out a note in the third movement, “even though it’s in the original” – a request he justifies by long experience.

Here is a masterclass in rehearsal technique. While his Beethoven has speeded up in line with current fashion, he respects tradition in his care for instrumental colouring and dynamic contrast – appropriately so for a German orchestra with such a warm timbre. After a decade together their relationship remains one of mutual respect, in which a free exchange of musical viewpoints is possible: Jansons is demanding, concise, collegial, genial, totally focused, always keen to involve the orchestra in a shared journey of discovery. “It’s not like a metronome, it’s music”, he says while going over a point of rhythmic expression in the finale.

The principal trumpet observes of the 70-year old conductor that “he does it because he enjoys it, and that carries over to us. That’s his secret.” By providing unrivalled insight into how one of the world’s leading conductors works, the set is worth the price for the rehearsal sequence alone. The performances are intelligently filmed, but there may be a limit to the number of times you want to watch the same orchestra and conductor perform the same symphonies in an unchanging visual framework. And so BR Klassik has made available an alternative six-CD edition, which drops the rehearsal insights in favour of works commissioned by Jansons from Shchedrin, Kancheli, Widmann and other living composers, all making reference to Beethoven.

Beethoven

The Symphonies

Mariss Jansons

(Arthaus Musik) 3 DVDs

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