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CD Review

Ludwig van Beethoven

EMI 64633
  • Symphony #9 in D minor "Choral" Op. 125
  • Fidelio Overture
Kiri Te Kanawa, Julia Hamari, Stuart Burrows, Robert Holl
London Symphony Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra/Eugen Jochum
EMI Studio Plus 64633 - 75min
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Reviewing the original issue of this Beethoven Ninth (in the September 1980 issue of the American Record Guide), Kurt Moses noted that in I "Jochum's more deliberate approach… ends up sounding sluggish" but that the "third movement is very beautiful… and deeply moving." He complained that the chorus was "recorded with a disconcertingly distant, almost disembodied sound" but praised "TeKanawa's beautiful tones and radiant expressiveness." He concluded that this recording was "quite good."

My assessment is rather less generous. I is indeed deliberate, but it's not just the slow pace that bothers me. Walter, for example, lingers nearly as long here (16:10 vs. Jochum's 16:29), but he brings rhythmic energy, crisp accents, wide dynamic contrast, and a flair for the score's searing, human drama to his interpretation. Jochum's homogenized orchestral sound (aided and abetted by EMI's tubby, back-of-the-hall recording) and episodic reading utterly misses the epic heroism of the score. II is better, but the trio is rushed and breathless. Mr. Moses described the timpani as "muffled". He's absolutely right; the engineers must have placed them out in the lobby. Jochum glosses over the surface of III without ever for a moment touching its depth or finding its emotional center. He starts the movement very slowly, then pointlessly begins to rush the pace about 10 minutes in. Moses praised Te Kanawa; I also appreciate Holl, whose phrasing of the 'Ode to Joy' theme is both more appealing and more musical than Jochum's. Despite the excellent contributions of the rather distantly recorded soloists, IV is routine, dull, and all too often mechanical. Bernstein's dynamic and intense reading (part of Sony's Royal Edition) has always been my personal favorite, though the unbelievable energy and passion of Koussevitzky should also be heard, despite the horribly flawed recording (AS Disc).

The Fidelio Overture is a perfect opener for this generously filled disc, especially in a performance as brilliant and profound as this (why couldn't Jochum have been equally inspired by the Symphony?). For once this music sounds like an appropriate curtain-raiser for Beethoven's only opera.

Copyright © 1996, Tom Godell

Trumpet