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CD Review

Ludwig van Beethoven

Symphony #9 "Choral"

  • Symphony #9 "Choral" in D minor, Op. 125 (1824)
Elisabeth Schwartzkopf, soprano
Elisabeth Hongen, contralto
Hans Hopf, tenor
Otto Edelmann, bass
Bayreuth Festival Orchestra & Chorus/Wihelm Furtwängler
EMI 66953
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There may not be a definitive recording of the Beethoven 9th, but this is as close as they come. The sound here, ART… whatever that means, was used on an issue out just a year ago or so, with a different cover. They sound identical, so if you got that one (66218) you needn't replace it unless the cover art is meaningful for you. On the other hand, it is so much better than the previous issue (69801… is there any reasoning behind their numbering system?) that it is like night and knight. Okay, that's lame. There is so much more music that you can hear now that any comparison is really a contrast. The bass line is firmer, the timpani can be felt. Interestingly (okay, maybe not) Bernstein's "Berlin" recording is almost as slow as Furtwängler, but this only proves how little tempo means to a performance. Bernstein is flaccid, dull. It is a shame to listen to this when I can recall Lenny dancing to the 9th in his VPO broadcast. Furtwängler screws the tension taut and the release is exhausting. As so often in a Furtwängler performance, he gets you involved before you realize it. His is a living thing, a spiritual atonement perhaps.

For what it is worth, I enjoyed reading Steinberg's commentary in his book The Symphony. Sometimes he offers insights I had not thought of. For example, he points out that all you have to say is "The 9th" and people know you mean Beethoven's.

This recording is one of the great gifts that Furtwängler has given us. If you don't own it now it the time to get it. If you have the first incarnation, replace it. Good stuff.

Copyright © 1999, Robert Stumpf II