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Beethoven completed his first two symphonies in 1800 and 1802 respectively. Although they both look backwards to the era of Haydn and Mozart, there is much in their musical language that offers a glimpse of what is to come. The scale of both symphonies is larger than previous works in the genre. Their expressiveness and emotional content seems broader and more personal than earlier symphonies. And Beethoven's compositional technique is more advanced and daring than either of his illustrious predecessors. It is hardly surprising that audiences were initially puzzled by what they heard.

The Symphony No.1 in C Major Op.21 is given a fleet performance by the Polish Chamber Philharmonic. Although they perform on modern instruments this orchestra has absorbed the lessons of the historically informed performance movement. Tempos are brisk, textures are relatively light and string vibrato is minimal. The orchestra emphasizes Beethoven's rustic qualities. The symphony unfolds with a powerful forward thrust that grips the listener at the start and proceeds with steely inevitability until the final notes. If you like your Beethoven played with dancelike abandon then this performance is for you.

The Symphony No. 2 in D Major Op.36 is one of Beethoven's most paradoxical works. Composed while he was in the depths of despair as he realized that he was losing his hearing, the symphony contains not a hint of emotional turmoil. It is a serene and confident work whose propulsive rhythms proclaim the composer's love of nature and the rusticity of the countryside. Beethoven seems to be searching for new means of expression in this powerful symphony. The Polish Chamber Philharmonic emphasize the symphony's blithe expressiveness, playing with a velocity that occasionally dilutes the works more profound moments. We should never forget that the D Major is the precursor to the mighty Eroica Symphony. It contains the germ of that great work's artistic brilliance and should not be played as if it were middle-period Haydn.

Tacet's engineers have once again created a fascinating soundstage whose immediacy and presence highlights all of the sonic beauty of these two symphonies. Using Tacet's "Real Surround Sound" the music comes from all around you as if you are placed into the center of the orchestra. With horns coming from in front of you and trumpets from behind, loud passages have a visceral impact. It’s a thrilling experience that matches Beethoven's robust musical style.
Mike Birman

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