Previously issued by Deutsche Harmonia Mundi in 1987,
Günter Wand's recording of Beethoven's Ninth has much to commend
it. For one thing the performance is brimming full of vitality, while
there is also a good team of soloists and a top class orchestra who
had worked regularly with the conductor in the German repertoire.
The recording too is a great success, particularly
so far as the orchestral balances are concerned. Take the very opening,
with its crescendo building blazing intensity out of the darkest shadows,
at a tempo which is surprisingly quick, but absolutely appropriate to
the overall vision. And that vision is keenly felt from the very fast
bar, phrased expressively and delivered with the utmost technical skill.
Whereas the first movement and scherzo are notable
for their urgency, the slow movement has a limpid fluency which proves
the perfect foil, not to heavy but with a suitable gravitas. The music
moves along eloquently yet with deep feeling, so that when the Andante
second subject adds its particular pathos, the arrival of the new material
makes a strong impression. Sir George Grove, no less, remarked that
this music was 'guaranteed to draw tears from strong men with whiskers',
and so it surely does here (though the reviewer admits to being clean-shaven).
The finale is the longest of the four movements, and
the popular fame of the 'Ode to Joy' should not delude us as to its
essential nature: 'a symphony bursting into song'. I this must be judged
as less successful than the remainder of the performance, it is still
convincing enough. The soloists are a capable and effective team, but
the chorus might have been recorded with more presence and atmosphere,
since they seem too distant here. Nor does the performance of this movement
generate that special sweep of momentum what this music can achieve.
Perhaps I complain too much, for no-one acquiring this performance is
likely to feel too disappointed with it; indeed, it does have many and
The booklet is not insubstantial, containing some useful
information about the music and its context. But there are no texts
and translations, which is extraordinary in view of the fact that there
are no fewer than twenty pages, one of them left completely blank.