Testament: Beethoven and Brett

Lucky indeed the person who comes to Beethoven’s Second Symphony in this performance; the Dean, too, is magnificent

Testament: Beethoven and Brett

We began Classical Explorer with a Beethoven Symphony - the most famous No. 5 (The Cult of Curentzis and a new Beethoven Fifth). We have kind of had a Second Symphony already (in a transcription for piano trio by Ferdinand Ries on Beethoven for Three, which also included Colin Matthews’ transcription of the Fifth) and we had A Tale of Two Sevenths (Ozawa and Carlos Kleiber), adding a third Seventh with Currentzis again; not to mention the BIS Furtwängler Bayreuth-via-Swedish Radio Ninth and that piece live with the Philharmonia, plus an “Eroica” arranged by Scharwenka.

Released July 15, 2022, today’s disc presents an inspired coupling. Plus, Jurowski’s Second is magnificent. This is the symphony that receives shortest shrift, and I for one have never worked out why. Of the early, “first period” symphonies, the First has primacy; live performances I have attended of the First way outnumber those of the Second, and it appears that is mirrored in the number of recordings of the Second against that of the First. With his characteristic sense of balance and clarity, his no-nonsense way with tempos and reluctance to be seen as interventionist, Jurowski is surely the ideal modern interpreter of this piece, and so it seems. The first movement shows many of these traits, while there is a cleanliness (and a typical no-nonsense tempo from Jurowski). Also typical of Jurowski is the tightness of ensemble in the Scherzo, which has a real feel of the dance about it; and just listen to the delightful woodwind of the Trio, and the sheer force of character here:

The sense of play returns in the finale, there full of dynamism, while the Larghetto is brilliantly judged: gently wafting, and the perfect tempo (it’s written in 3/8). Lucky indeed the person who comes to Beethoven’s Second Symphony in this performance; Jurowski confirms the work’s stature in no uncertain manner.

And so to Brett Dean’s Testament - Music for Orchestra (2008, after Testament - Music for 12 Violas, 2002). The original was written for the violas of the Berliner Philharmoniker (Dean’s ex-colleagues) while the 2008 expansion was written for teh Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, The piece is inspired by Beethoven’s famous 1802 Heiligenstadt Testament, written on receiving the news that his hearing loss was irreversible. Dean had the idea of the “quietly feverish” sound of Beethoven’s quill on manuscript paper, ”writing manically”.

The orchestral violinists have two bows for this piece: the opening is played on bows that are not treated with rosin (while at that point woodwind players only blow air through tehir instruments). These tractionless bows make an eerie sound while occasionally resulting in a full tone; the idea was to present the work’s material “as if through a gauze”. Slowly, quotations from Beethoven (the first ”Razumovsky” Quartet, Op. 59/1) start to coalesce, before being cruelly curtailed, creating both loss and a search in vain for clarity and cohesion. We hear the anguish via rosined bows on strings. The choice of the ”Razumovsky’ Quartet is significant: the Heiligenstadt Testament indeed led to a new phase in Beethoven”s output, including those quartets.

To complement the live performance of Testament on this disc (Munich’s Nationaltheater, October 5/6, 2020), here’s one from 2017 at the Konzerthaus Berlin, also conducted by Jurowski but with the Berlin  Radio Symphony Orchestra:

.. and always good to have the composer himself conducting, here on BIS, with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra on a disc entitled Shadow Music. Personally, I find the composer more subtle than either Jurowski, and there is so much detail here (plus the Beethoven quotes seem more focused and make more sense):

.. and finally here’s a performance of the viola original:

A real treat, from every angle. Inspired, in fact.

I have also included a link to an Amazon MP3 download of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Testament below.

Beethoven & Dean (Jurowski)Dean Testament (Tasmanian SO)