Symphonies: No. 1; No. 7
David Bernard, cond; Park Avenue CS
PARK AVENUE CHAMBER SYMPHONY 0025 (67:22)
Available to download at chambersymphony.com
Listeners are apt to be divided over the sound of the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony. It does not sound like any of the big five American orchestras. In particular, it lacks their carefully manicured string tone. The PACS strings are dark and somewhat gritty, although their blend is rather beautiful. The winds in the PACS perform with great character, so much so that when they play as a choir their sound is tangy rather than pristine. The horns really bray—this is not the golden tone of our major orchestras. The trumpets have an old-fashioned French quality, with lots of vibrato. As for me, I enjoy the sound of this orchestra. I find it highly appropriate for Beethoven, reminiscent in a way of the deep, dark tone The Hanover Band has on period instruments for this composer. David Bernard gets the best out of his orchestra here. The conductors of the German romantic school seem to have informed Bernard’s Beethoven. In particular, the ghost of Wilhelm Furtwängler hovers over these performances. Bernard’s Beethoven is big and brawny, capturing the composer’s heroic nature even in quieter moments. There is particular concern for the melos of Beethoven, creating a sound world that always speaks of the composer’s personality. Bernard’s performances may not displace any of the classic recordings of this repertoire, but they do supplement them in ways that are enlightening and revealing.
The introduction to the opening movement of the First Symphony is beautifully rhapsodic. In the main section every part sings, while forward motion is preserved. Bernard takes the exposition repeats in this movement and the next. The strings shine in the slow movement, with delicately pointed rhythms. The following movement is a stately dance, with this attitude maintained throughout the trio. Bernard doesn’t rush the last movement, which is filled with clear textures and orchestral color. As the Seventh Symphony starts, the winds in the introduction to the first movement display lovingly shaped chords. The movement’s principal section makes a wonderful racket, and once again Bernard takes the exposition repeat. His tempo for the
is traditionally slow. The lower strings here are especially impressive, with the total effect being unusually noble. The third movement partakes of a festive mood. Its trio features telling rhythmic accents. The last movement is quick and lively; I am reminded of Thomas Beecham’s comment that it’s like a lot of yaks jumping about—but these are joyous yaks. The sound engineering is clean and pleasant. Should you be looking for these symphonies on CD, I would recommend Furtwängler and the Vienna Philharmonic on EMI for the First, and Roger Norrington’s Stuttgart account in the Seventh. If you think you’ve heard the last word on these works, I would urge you to download David Bernard’s recordings. They are proof that these two symphonies offer an inexhaustible trove of meanings and emotions. I think you’ll be impressed.