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This is without doubt an excellent addition to the Beethoven catalogue with Rajski giving some of the most vibrant readings of these two magnificent symphonies that I have heard in a long while. No mention is made of whether the Barenreiter/Del Mar editions are employed but this is not important with music making of such vitality. This is playing that is as close to ideal on the chamber orchestra scale as I can imagine - I fully appreciate though that some wouldn't want to be without a more weighty sound (and nor would I!)

As this is intended to be a complete cycle of the symphonies, I hope they will also tackle the overtures and concerto's, the most obvious competitors on SACD are LSO/Haitink (LSO Live) and Minnesota/Vanska (BIS). This is recorded (on the MCH layer, of which more later) in a very different way but the performance has very different characteristics; the Polish Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra of Sopot are a genuine chamber orchestra and consequently much smaller scale than either of the competing cycles. This means on occasion, where noted, that sometimes the bass sound is a tad light but on the whole is very refreshing and reveals things in a manner that used to be the province only of HIP performances but combined with rock solid tuning and tone.

Starting with the seventh, after a suitably imposing (but not overly grand) opening the first movement genuinely dances away in quite an exhilarating fashion. The oboe "cadenza" is tastefully extended and the only thing that might be judged lacking is a certain weight from the bass, most noticeable perhaps in the great build-up to the coda. The famous Allegretto is not treated like a slow movement in any way - perhaps the best way to describe it might be that of an unfit person gingerly recovering after the exertions of the first movement - phrase runs beautifully into phrase on both a micro and macro level. The third and fourth movements give no doubt that the orchestra is a wonderful bunch of players - such musical athleticism has rarely been employed so tastefully. Tempi are very well done so that even the "Assai meno presto" [trio] of the Presto [scherzo] can dance in a very graceful and lilting manner while the exuberance of the remainder is quite extraordinary. In the finale, some might find the strings a little lacking in body but I found it most exciting. The build up in tension as we near the final coda is marvellous and the pay-off with the woodwinds coming through, naturally, loud and clear is excellent.

The eighth symphony is no less successful and Rajski manages to provide some element of the dance to the first movement whilst keeping much of the majesty of this oft-mistakenly described "little" symphony; truly this is a recording in which "Allegro vivace e con brio" means exactly that. The clock-like second movement is wonderfully precise with a suitably brisk pacing that allows the comedic aspects of the "Allegretto scherzando" to register with the listener. The "Tempo di Menuetto" is just that - danceable but not too energetic. The finale is very light on its feet but the attack of the strings at times is ferocious even if their number means there is just enough weight in the fortissimo passages.

The MCH recording might, in particular, prove the most controversial aspect of this issue for many. Although the approach that Tacet have adopted is far from natural, it is certainly exciting and thought-provoking; I have never heard so much detail come through because their approach in these works and it certainly makes for a more active listening experience than usual when the ears are dragged back and forth between the different sections of the orchestra. Two different MCH layouts are adopted, and each involves two concentric circles in which the listener is placed centrally.

Symphony No.7
Outer circle: Horn 1 (FL), Timpani (Centre), Horn 2 (FR), Trumpet 1 (RL), Trumpet 2 (RR)
Inner circle: Bassoons, Clarinets, Oboes, Flutes (front from left to right) and 1st violins, Cellos, Violas, Basses, 2nd violins (rear left to right)

Symphony No.8
Outer circle: Horn 1 (FL), Timpani (Centre), Horn 2 (FR), Trumpet 1 (RL), Trumpet 2 (RR)
Inner circle: Bassoons, Clarinets, Oboes, Flutes (front from left to right) and 1st violins, 2nd violins, Violas, Basses, Cellos (rear left to right)

Careful set-up of a MCH system is needed or else the recording can quickly sound cavernous - a curious characteristic that is not present on the stereo layer. Apart from the spacing issues, Tacet provide us with beautiful sound. I'll award 5 for stereo, 5 for MCH but caveat this as many would be tempted to give the MCH layer 0! If you're open-minded (or should that be brave?) enough, give it a try - it really is astonishing.

Overall this is hugely enjoyable playing of great music that I cannot recommend too highly for those that want a chamber orchestra approach as opposed to a symphony orchestra. The MCH layer may prove to be an issue for some but I would strongly encourage at least one listening in this manner as it is completely involving; the stereo layer is wholly recommendable for those that the MCH layer would prove an anathema.

John Broggio

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