Jan Willem de Vriend / Netherlands Symphony Orchestra

Beethoven: Complete Symphonies Vol. 1 - Symphonies Nos. 4 & 6

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Ordinarily, one wouldn't confuse a modern symphony orchestra with an ensemble of original Classical-era instruments, but under the direction of Jan Willem de Vriend, the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra could easily be mistaken for an early music group, particularly in the cycle of Beethoven symphonies it has recorded for Challenge Classics. Except for the authentic 18th and 19th century brass instruments that are used, which provide a distinctly incisive tone, the instrumentation is conventional. Furthermore, de Vriend doesn't go out of his way to make the Symphony No. 4 in in B flat major and the Symphony No. 6 in F major, "Pastorale," sound like historical re-creations, in terms of taking unduly faster tempos or other purported Classical practices. De Vriend, who also leads the early music ensemble Combattimento Consort Amsterdam, communicates an authentic feeling for the Classical period in his handling of expression and in the precise execution of the notes, eliciting energy, vitality, and robust sonorities from the orchestra that seem vintage and have a credible presence, without fetishizing style or forcing the results. Notable throughout is the luster of the strings, which comes from playing senza vibrato, though the effect never becomes tiresome because the musicians play with enough power that the tone never seems overly refined. These exceptional performances were recorded in the SACD surround sound format, and the music breathes in spacious acoustics that offer a nearly ideal balance of clarity and resonance.

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