‘THE SYMPHONIES: A BEETHOVEN JOURNEY’ FEATURES STUNNING RECORDINGS BY THE VERBIER FESTIVAL CHAMBER ORCHESTRA THAT EXPERTS HAIL AS “PASSIONATE, DIRECT, AND FRESH.”
On a hot afternoon in July of 2009, the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra, together with their cherished Music Director, Gábor Takács-Nagy, turned to the opening page of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1. “From the very first notes of that rehearsal, there was something special in the air,” says the Hungarian conductor. “Between my own past – having performed the String Quartets nearly one thousand times – and the adoration we clearly shared for Beethoven and each other, I somehow knew that magic was on the horizon.”
Fourteen years later, Deutsche Grammophon and the Verbier Festival are thrilled to unveil ‘The Symphonies: A Beethoven Journey’ via their joint-label, Verbier Festival Gold. Comprised of electrifying performances by the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra (VFCO), the release is available for physical purchase, download, and streaming on 9 June 2023.
5-Disc sets and iTunes purchases include an innovative booklet that features a lively conversation between Takács-Nagy and legendary biographer Jan Swafford (author of ‘Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph’). In a foreword to their dialogue, which dissects each movement per opus, Swafford offers a passionate endorsement of the recordings at hand: “Honesty is what we hear in these performances: no romantic lushness, no ego, rather a sense of the truth of each piece on its own terms. There is an intimate communication between orchestra and conductor in service of a vision of the works as individuals and as a whole.”
For VFCO Music Director Gábor Takács-Nagy, the journey with Beethoven’s compositions began at the age of nineteen as a young violinist in communist Hungary. In 1977, while studying with the likes of György Kurtág and Zoltán Székely at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, he founded what would become the world-renowned Takács Quartet, serving as first violinist. The group was uniquely heralded for their daring interpretations of the Beethoven String Quartets, which they constantly performed on the most prestigious stages of the world. As he transitioned to the realm of conducting, Takács-Nagy was praised for his ability to infuse the composer’s symphonies with the same intensity and spontaneity that had become synonymous with his chamber interpretations.
“As soon as we finished the last note of the Ninth Symphony in 2022, I closed my score and realized that I was a man who had been deeply blessed by fate. Not only was I given the opportunity to play all of Beethoven’s String Quartets with three treasured colleagues, but furthermore, I had the chance to explore each symphony with my beloved, brilliant friends in the VFCO. The relationship we have – rooted in fearlessness, equality, and discovery – is indescribable. If listeners enjoy these recordings, I hope they understand that the fuel for our journey through each masterpiece came from a place of genuine joy.” – Gábor Takács-Nagy
Since its founding in 1898, iconic cycles of Beethoven’s Symphonies have served as pillars within the vast catalog of Deutsche Grammophon. Clemens Trautmann, CEO of the pre-eminent classical label, expresses his enthusiasm for the release: “There is no better way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Verbier Festival than with a Beethoven Symphony cycle – a towering oeuvre that has always been revealing about the musical philosophy of the past, while forging innovation of the future. The cycle recorded by Gábor Takács- Nagy and the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra incapsulates the spirit of the Festival where musicians gather for inspired communal music-making in ideal conditions, but – beyond that – it is a rendition that is both artistically reverent and uniquely original. As Beethoven recordings have played a prominent role in shaping Deutsche Grammophon’s legacy, this set is also a beautifully fitting project to mark the successful first year of our joint label, Verbier Festival Gold.”
Unlike most cycles – recorded over several days, months, or years – this particular project offers a voyage through the nine symphonies that is remarkable in scale. The performances were captured over a thirteen year period, across multiple venues in both Switzerland and Germany. Artistically, the variety of high-calibre playing is equally expansive. Instead of relying on a tenure system, the VFCO is composed of successful alumni from the Festival’s training programmes – many of whom have gone on to occupy positions in the leading orchestras of the world. As such, in total, roughly one hundred and seventy musicians contributed to the recordings between 2009 and 2022. Martin T:son Engstroem, Founder & Director of the Verbier Festival, explains the concept behind such extraordinary scope:
“No one needs another Beethoven Symphonic Cycle. There are close to two hundred of them in the catalogue already. Our decision to create one with Gábor and the VFCO only arrived after he had
conducted five of the symphonies in concert. We simply could not ignore the fact that he had something powerful to say, and his relationship with the ensemble is truly remarkable. He manages to make the orchestra sound like a string quartet in their approach, playing with a level of sensitivity and tenacity that one rarely hears outside of chamber performances. This journey through the symphonies is definitely a new angle, and a valid competitor to the greatest cycles available.”