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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 9 in D minor Op. 125 Choral
The Consecration of the House Overture Op. 124 +
Luise Helletsgruber (soprano), Rosette Anday (contralto), Georg Maikl (tenor) and Richard Mayr (bass)
Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orchestra
London Philharmonic Orchestra +
Felix Weingartner
Recorded 1935 and 1938
NAXOS 8.110863 [74.04]

Though it emerged as much by default as by design Weingartner’s is still one of the most musically recommendable of all cycles of the Beethoven Symphonies. His sagacity in matters of balance, rhythm and tempo relation are as notable now as when Weingartner set down these recordings. Quite unselfconscious in matters of phrasing, with a determining impetus, few have sounded less sentimental or more nobly grave. And when we arrive at the Ninth one finds utterly undimmed his sense of clear-eyed mobility allied to expressive depth. His control of the first movement is absolute, imagination and clarity held in perfect accord, adopting a tempo which whilst subject to a little flexibility is nevertheless essentially one of logic and phrasal sensitivity. What one appreciates more and more is his control of the long line, his avoidance of show and gesture, of the superficial and passing. There is a refusal to indulge metricality, his austere nobility of utterance is one that would regard speed for its own sake not simply as a crude imposition but, worse, as musical solipsism.

The Molto Vivace finds the Vienna fiddles on fine, slashing form and the woodwind principals add their own distinctive colours to the patina – the bassoonist and oboist are especially characterful. The phrasing in the slow movement conforms to everything we know of Weingartner’s supple gravity, with the exceptionally fine violin line, the incision of the pizzicati and horn playing adding even greater riches. The string cantilena unfolds in a single unbroken span. The sepulchral basses makes their unmistakable presence felt in the recitative of the last movement in which Weingartner binds the syntax with a command that never becomes slack. The finale is in fact notable for his eagle-like vision in which one constantly feels oneself in the presence of a control both lateral and vertical. The Chorus is virile even if unpredictable – note writer Ian Julier rightly cites the tenors’ occasional imperfections – but the quartet of soloists includes the venerable bass Richard Mayr. The early Presto section isn’t quite secure but by the Maestoso we are witnessing a gripping intensity and the blazing cry of triumph in the Allegro energico is really something. All this is possible because of Weingartner’s heroic concentration

Coupled with the Ninth is The Consecration of the House Overture, which receives a crisp and well-judged reading, full of rhythmic drive and sectionally very well balanced. The Columbia LXs had a good, wide frequency range that has been well captured by Mark Obert-Thorn. It’s just and apposite that Naxos has used a photograph of the young Weingartner, after the venerable artwork of their previous issues in this series. For me his Beethoven cycle will remain perennially sagacious, a compound of youth and wisdom.

Jonathan Woolf



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