This the second volume in a series of the complete Beethoven symphonies being undertaken by the independent, Stuttgart-based company TACET. I found the first disc (of Symphonies 7 and 8) revelatory (see review at Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 7 & 8 - Rajski), and this new coupling is no less exciting.
The works are smaller in scale and scope, of course, but the performances of conductor Wojciech Rajski and his excellent Polish Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra are no less lean, supple and punchy than in Volume 1. Rajski has the gift, surprisingly rare in Beethoven, of finding the "tempo giusto", injecting the music with plenty of youthful vigour and spirit without pushing it uncomfortably into overdrive in an attempt to prove some spurious (and anyway largely self-evident) point about the dynamic, driving nature of Beethoven′s composerly personality. Regular readers of this website will probably be aware that the distinctive thing about the TACET label is not, however, the quality of the performances (though these are very high quality indeed), but the way in which chief engineer and company owner Andreas Spreer presents the sonic information. Put briefly, Spreer makes full use of the two rear speakers - rather than, as with most multichannel classical recordings, mainly utilising them to fill out hall ambience, with most of the raw musical signal still emanating from the front speakers.
Thus, for instance, in this present recording, first and second violins are located about halfway down your listening space, and divided left and right across the sonic spectrum, so that you can hear the often very important (and witty) interchanges between firsts and seconds much more clearly than in "normal" 5.1, 5.0 or 4.0 recordings, or in stereo. Lower strings are placed slightly further towards the rear, woodwinds more towards the front speakers. The two horns (plus timpani) are well towards the front, the two trumpets well towards the rear, both divided left and right antiphonally. This type of arrangement is what TACET calls "Real Surround Sound", in the sense, I guess, that the sound does really and genuinely surround you while you′re listening.
There are those who bridle at this kind of arrangement, dubbing it artificial or even gimmicky, and some of these critics have expressed their opinions forcefully elsewhere on this website. That′s fine (though I suspect that in several cases at least they have never actually listened to a TACET product). My own opinion is that what I hear on this disc is neither "artificial" nor "gimmicky", but a beautifully integrated, uniquely transparent recording giving a special insight into the soundworld of these symphonies, how they work, the many interactions of instruments, and how they′re put together in the composing process.
I must stress that, despite the unprecedentedly high levels of detail available to the multichannel listener, the overwhelming effect of the recording is one of homogeneity and unity. There is assuredly much greater separation of instrumental strands and individual instruments than usual, but never at the expense of the overall sonic picture, which is unified and warmly enveloping, decidely not a collection of fascinating little titbits of spot-miked information patched together in a willy-nilly fashion. You are, as it were, "in media res", but in no sense in an oppressive or intimidating fashion.
Quite the opposite - it′s a warmly enveloping and inviting sound-picture, one that uniquely facilitates active engagement with and reaction to the music. The interplay between the different string parts in the finale of Symphony 1, and the rousing call and response sequence between horns and trumpets in the powerful development section of Symphony 2′s opening movement, are but two examples among many of the special insights and enjoyments offered by TACET′s multichannel presentation of this music.I′ll conclude by saying that I′ve never enjoyed these symphonies more, heard more of the subtleties of what is going on in them instrumentally, or had a more intimate insight into Beethoven′s creative thought processes in making them. Andreas Spreer is a uniquely imaginative, uniquely skilful "Tonmeister" who brings immense care and musicality to his recordings, and has already, in terms of the possibilities of multichannel sound for classical music, long since left the point at which most other companies have not yet even considered arriving.
I am confident that in due course of time Spreer will be hailed as one of the key innovators in sound recording history, and bracketed with the likes of Walter Legge, John Culshaw, and Wilma Cozart Fine as a member of that small, exclusive band of pioneers who have moved the classical recording industry forward in a genuinely new, exciting direction.Terence Blain