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Decca Phase 4
Symphony No.9 in D Minor Op.125 Choral (1824)
Schwarzkopf (sop); Elisabeth Hoengen (cont); Hans Hopf
(ten); Otto Edelmann (bass)
Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. 29 July 1951, Festpielhaus, Bayreuth. ADD
Reissue Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
NAXOS 8.11060 [74:19]
now and then we music-lovers who review records for other
music-lovers have an easy time. That said, when it is also
awesome we may get carried away so have to live with the
disc until everything falls into place.
1951 Bayreuth reading of Beethoven’s Choral Op.125 was not
released until 1955. It has far more to it than first meets
the ears in its precision and expert reprise of Beethoven’s
whole symphonic career; all this in a live performance by
an ageing conductor mainly associated with Wagner.
owe this essential issue to any music-lover’s library to
Mark Obert-Thorn’s painstaking expert restoration. It isn’t
just a matter of de-clicking, de-hissing and taking out rumble
as some software products claim to do but involves forensic
scholarship writ large down to pitch correction and even
expert such as Mark Obert-Thorn knows the difference between
fidelity - in all senses - and making a mere product by over-polishing.
What we hear is what was in the performance and this accepts
some ‘defects’ which might offend the sterilised digital
if you want a Beethoven Ninth to blow the loudspeakers out
of your car this release is not for you. No, it’s for real
music-lovers with an established knowledge of the symphonies
or someone who wants to know how Beethoven sounds outwith
dynamic limitations are in the middle range and show especially
in the horns, sometimes the cellos and mid-range chorus.
This is– simply because microphone engineering in 1951 could
not - to use contemporary language - collect that ‘middle
achievement is magnificent in this performance but not in
any sort of showmanship such as Karajan or Bernstein sometimes
favoured. Instead he gets straight to work and shows us how
the first movement contains so much of that Beethoven sound
from the Eroica through to the 7th in just 18
minutes. Notes are placed with such freshness that we know
we have something special which the composer would have loved.
second movement, Molto vivace, is precisely that without
the rush and drama some conductors seem to like and it’s
easy to see what Furtwängler is doing by keeping the ‘scherzo’ well
paced because he follows up the third movement Adagio molto
e cantabile as a natural progression – again with the studious
detail he set from the opening bars.
some later conductors like to make the slow movement into
a meal of searching for profundity it is clear that Furtwängler
saw the symphony as a symphony and not separate ‘works’ under
a single Op number. This overall view is the glory of the
recording, recorded in the 20th century but giving
us what Beethoven wrote in 1824.
hefty dynamics of the last movement could not be captured
by technology back in 1951 but that is far less important
than the interaction of the soloists, an enthusiastic chorus,
albeit with a few imperfect voices yet Furtwängler’s purity
and accurate control remain to the very end just as he starts.
he avoids the Karajan tendency (in three recordings) to turn
the descending final cadence into a cascade akin to Mantovani – and
although I am a great enthusiast of Karajan in so much music
even he cannot compare with this disc.
sonic range in a live performance from a decimated Germany
just a few years after a war might not suit those wanting
a huge sound this Naxos achievement is a classic of a classic
and stands alone as such.
Well because the ‘Choral’ is one of the greatest works by
a major genius of the 19th century, the conductor
in a live concert is one the greatest conductors of the first
half of the 20th century and the restoration engineer
is probably the best classical artist in a field which
is 21st century at this level of fidelity but
based on what subtle ears rooted in live music take as the
benchmark. All this for under €8.
just recommended but absolutely essential to any civilised
see also review by Anne Ozorio
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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