Beethoven: The Nine Symphonies ~ Pletnev
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Beethoven: The Symphonies
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PLETNEV MIKHAIL / RUSSIAN NATI
BEETHOVEN: SYMPHONIES (9) Russian National Orchestra, conducted by Mikhail Pletnev (Deutsche Grammophon; five CDs). Mikhail Pletnev is a brilliant musician, an amazing pianist and an idiosyncratic conductor, and he has made a glorious mess of the Beethoven symphonies. The seesawing of tempos in this compelling, driving and sometimes shocking set induce now motion sickness, now awe. It may not be to every taste, but it demands to be heard. -- NEW YORK TIMES: ANNE MIDGETTE
- Product Dimensions : 5 x 5.75 x 0.75 inches; 6.27 Ounces
- Manufacturer : Deutsche Grammophon
- SPARS Code : DDD
- Date First Available : August 11, 2007
- Label : Deutsche Grammophon
- ASIN : B000SSPL26
- Number of discs : 5
Best Sellers Rank:
#245,663 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
- #8,805 in Symphonies (CDs & Vinyl)
- Customer Reviews:
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I am giving Pletnev's efforts five stars because the only alternative is to throw up my hands. There are times when the whole enterprise seems like an elaborate prank--witness the three different tempos that Pletnev applies to the first four bars of the Pastorale before deciding to race off at lightning speed, only to slam on the brakes thrity bars later. Balances are at times extremely different from the norm; there are sudden enormous slow downs, as in the Trio of the Eroica's Scherzo; Pletnev flirts with the lightness of the period movement, only to wallow the next moment in a voluptuous romanticism that would have made Mengelberg blush (only the wayward, brilliant Dutch conductor can be offered as a parallel). By comparison, Bernstien seems like the village priest.
As for a detailed review of each symphony, I'll leave that to others -- or to a later entry after I've absorbed this shockingly original set. But my first impression is one of exhilaration blended with total bafflement. What is this wild man doing to Beethoven? You'll have to give him a listen to find out.
With clipped phrasing and generally quick tempos, Pletnev's overall vision of the symphonies does fit in with today's interpretive style for Beethoven, but any similarity with other contemporary recordings ends there.
Packaged in a compact capbox with striking colors and modernistic fonts, the cycle is presented as a contemporary reading of old music, and at times it is a very successful set. The 8th, for example, gets an outstanding reading and is probably the most successful of the cycle, easily comparing with the best recordings. However the iconic 5th is subjected to various elastic tempos, and a very rushed finale, leaving this most familiar of all symphonies somehow unfamiliar when the recording is over.
Other symphonies suffer from Pletnev's unorthodox style, most obviously in the Pastorale (in this case a "Fastorale"), with an alarmingly-fast first movement that robs the music of its bucolic sweetness. The 7th receives a stately Allegretto (and a silly ending to the Presto), and the Eroica vascillates between breakneck speeds and brake-slamming pauses, its architectural wonders grossly distorted in this reading.
Also unsatisfying is the 9th, with a too-fast 3rd movement that glosses over the music's mystical wonders, and a choir in the last movement that suffers from an overly warbly and shreikey women's section.
It must be said that the Russian National Orchestra plays beautifully and follows Pletnev's every bizarre turn with absolute precision, although their brass section is weak at times. Strings sound burnished and full, with a mature sound that belies this orchestra's young age.
The recorded sound is demonstration quality ... clearly Deutsche Grammophon learned their lesson after the debacle with their Claudio Abbado Beethoven cycle from 2000, a strange attempt at audiophile mastering that many people thought was poorly done.
Pletnev is either a musical genius, or a complete wackadoo (perhaps both), but in any event his Beethoven should be heard, because he does at least have something to say, and doesn't just pound out yet another by-the-numbers Beethoven cycle. It is quite an entertaining listen, and the sound quality really is spectacular. Still, this will never be a reference recording; it's too eccentric, too arbitrary, and frankly just too weird. But perhaps for that very reason alone, it's worth exploring.
Certainly not all, but, as elaborated in other reviews, some of the Pletnev Beethoven suffers from this speed syndrome. Beethoven needs both punch and fluff. I've loved Pletnev's fire in other of his performances. But here, as in much of Glenn Gould's rendition of Mozart sonatas, that much speed kills (by the way I cheat. The unpleasantly fast movements I've put through my .wav editor to slow down by about 10%. Makes a big difference :) )
Other than that I like the set very much, and not more, not less than other modern "crisp" interpretations such as John Gardiner's and Osmo Vanska's Beethoven. The Russian National Orchestra has first rate intonation, ensemble, and solo work. The sound ambience is very good.
A recommended buy? A qualified yes. Yes, if you can handle the hyperspeedy movements. A full yes, if you can "cheat" as mentioned earlier.