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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


HOFFNUNG for CHRISTMAS? an ideal Christmas present for yourself or your friends.
Books posted the day the order is received


Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Opus 125 'Choral'
Edith Wiens (soprano), Hildegard Hartwig (mezzo soprano), Keith Lewis (tenor), Roland Hermann (bass)
NDRSO/Günter Wand
Rec 1987 by Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
RCA RED SEAL 74321 68005 2 [66.23]

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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 special merits.

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.


Terry Barfoot



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