Beethoven: Complete Symphonies, Vol. 5: Symphony No. 9 / De Vriend, Netherlands Symphony Orchestra

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BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 Jan Willem de Vriend, cond; Annemarie Kremer (sop); Wilke te Brummelstroete (mez); Marcel Reijans (ten); Geert Smits (bar); Consensus Vocalis; Netherlands SO CHALLENGE CC72532 (SACD: 63:14)

Jan Willem de Vriend completes his survey of the Beethoven symphonies with this exciting new Ninth. His excellent orchestra is a modern ensemble with the addition of period brass (I presume from the sound that natural horns are employed). This cycle is the latest addition to the relatively small number of sets available in SACD multichannel sound; for that reason alone it deserves some attention.

The performance begins with a dramatic, emphatic opening with timpani pounding home the punctuation. Vriend creates excellent tension through the contrasting major and minor modes, the former theme especially poignant. Philip Herreweghe, in the Ninth included in his own compendium of the symphonies, isn’t as intensely dramatic, and his touch is lighter in the percussion. I prefer Vriend, who is closer in spirit to Paavo Järvi (RCA), though Järvi employs a brisker tempo, and his orchestra hasn’t got the punch of Vriend’s full-size outfit.

The exuberant energy of the Scherzo is manifest in this performance, and the timpanist is once again an impressive presence. Repeats are observed, and the tempo seems perfect, the Trio not too fast but still providing contrast with the Scherzo theme. Vriend allows the Adagio to take its time without any sense of drag; Herreweghe is about 30 seconds quicker but doesn’t inject quite the same level of cantabile phrasing as is heard in this new account.

The clamorous opening of the finale is fast and furious; the basses and cellos then have their say—Vriend has his cellos up front to the right, with basses behind, so this episode is especially vivid. Baritone Geert Smits has the timbre of a bass-baritone, and his delivery is heroic but never brusque. The Consensus Vocalis sounds like a medium-size choir, numerous enough to add heft to their contributions. Vriend’s Turkish March allows Marcel Reijans the space to hold forth with spirit (and breath). The double fugue is truly joyful, while the four soloists are exemplary in their subsequent quartet. Vriend guides the symphony to a triumphant close with a presto that is coherent but exhilarating.

The sound is excellent, though some may prefer an aural perspective that is closer. I initially felt that the production was bass-shy, but within this mid-hall perspective, the orchestral balance is actually truer than productions that feature a booming bass sound, and the amount of instrumental detail is also notable.

With this release, Vriend’s entire cycle is enhanced, so that I would now place it on par with that of Herreweghe on PentaTone (though this Challenge set now consists of six discs to the five of Herreweghe). Given the overall excellence of the performances and sound, I can recommend this new Ninth as worthy of even the more fully stocked Beethoven collection.

FANFARE: Christopher Abbot

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CC72533

  • UPC: 0608917253320

  • Label: Challenge

  • Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven

  • Conductor: Jan Willem de Vriend