Jan Willem de Vriend

Beethoven: Complete Symphonies Vol 5 - Symphony No. 9

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Because the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra is a modern orchestra that on first sight wouldn't be mistaken for a period ensemble, it might come as a surprise that its recordings of Ludwig van Beethoven's symphonies with conductor Jan Willem de Vriend sound quite a bit like fully fledged period performances. To the extent this group produces Classical sonorities, albeit on modern instruments (except in the case of the original 18th and 19th century brass they use), and borrows authentic practices from historical scholarship, a random excerpt test could fool any expert. This isn't to say that the tempos are necessarily faster than they are traditionally played in the Symphony No. 9 in D minor, "Choral," or that the approach to Beethoven's music has become fussy or rarefied in their hands. But de Vriend, a musicologist who also leads the early music ensemble Combattimento Consort Amsterdam, gives this work robust energy, sharp attacks, crisp rhythms, and some tone colors that are simply remarkable. The horns have a marvelous brusqueness, the timpani are startling with the hard mallets, and the strings frequently shine with the silvery tone that comes from playing senza vibrato. The singing of Schiller's German text in the finale, "An die Freude," is shaded with Dutch pronunciation, though in other regards it is conventional and offers no period surprises. These world-class performances were brilliantly recorded in the SACD surround sound format, so the music is captured in its wide dynamic range and spacious acoustics.

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