Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 7 [Jurowski/Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment] Blu-ray Review
- Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
- Video Codec: MPEG-2
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: PCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Subtitles: English
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1
- Studio: Ideale Audience Internationale
- Blu-ray Release Date: May 31, 2011
- List Price: $45.98
Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures
(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)
Original or period instrument performances of the Romantic era symphonic works were popularized, if not invented by Sir Roger Norrington in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, beginning with the Beethoven symphonic cycle. Groups like the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) began to flourish at about this time, moving from Baroque and Classical era repertoire into the sturm und drang of the 19th century. Vladimir Jurowski, a young Russian conductor, has been associated with these works from nearly the beginning of his starry career and knows the OAE well. The all-Beethoven program consists of the lesser played Coriolan Overture, and Symphonies 4 in B-flat major and 7 in A-major. This more is less approach to orchestration has the alleged advantage of allowing the inner voices of each piece to emerge from a less crowded background. But will this 2010 performance in Paris’s Art Deco Theatre des Champs-Elysees please traditional Beethoven lovers, such as myself? I’m afraid, not this time around.
The Art Deco Theatre appears to be a dimly lit venue which is not helpful to the black-clad players or conductor, obscuring some of the desirable detail of both players and their instruments. More critically and annoyingly, director Olivier Simmonet seems to favor extremely frequent cut-aways between the players and conducor which made this a fatiguing video to watch. What is wrong with lavishing some attention on the orchestral sections for more than two or three nanoseconds? Relatively few panoramic views of the orchestra or hall are presented which would have allowed viewers to see how small this orchestra really is.
Conductor Jurowski’s concept of these works is to scale down their dynamics in favor of chamber-like detail, as if these were Haydn or Mozart pieces from which Beethoven took initial inspiration. His tempi appear to be a bit brisk but the players deal quite well with the maestro’s choices. Unfortunately, the hall appears to be quite dry with little resonance emphasizing the small scale of the overall presentation. In this regard, the DTS-HD Master Audio multichannel mix does not appear to add much ambience over the 2 channel PCM tracks.
There are several trailers for other Ideale Audience videos. Rather disappointing from the standpoint of those who would like to know more about period-instrument performances of Beethoven.
The Definitive Word
As much as I tried to go along with maestro Jurowski’s concepts of these works, I consistently felt that the decision to go with period instruments detracted from the majesty that is Beethoven. Those coming to these pieces for the first time may find this approach more enjoyable than I did, being accustomed to hearing Beethoven fleshed out with the more modern and tonally superior instruments of today’s orchestras. I also found that Jurowski’s driven approach to much of these scores left me aurally fatigued. A liability of reduced forces and scales is that it makes the occasional intonation problems during live performance more obvious as was the case here for both strings and winds. The darkness of the venue and the musicians’ dress also sucked some of the life out of the videography. However, my main gripe with the camera work was with the director’s frenetic use of cutaways that made me vertiginous. For those seeking Beethoven at his finest in the Blu-ray disc medium, you need go no further than the outstanding set from Christian Thielemann and the Vienna Philharmonic (C Major).
Additional Screen Captures