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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 (1824)
Ingeborg Wenglor (soprano); Ursula Zollenkopf (alto); Hans-Joachim Rotzsch (tenor); Theo Adam (bass)
Runfunkchor Leipzig
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Franz Konwitschny
rec. 1960, Deutsche Schallplatten Berlin
Experience Classicsonline

There is no shortage of fine recordings of Beethoven’s celebrated Ninth Symphony, but this reissue of a classic version by that great Beethoven conductor Franz Konwitschny can take a proud place among them. A few years ago his complete Beethoven symphonies cycle was issued, and in his review Rob Barnett made the pertinent observation that ‘for his state funeral procession the streets of Leipzig were lined deep and crowded over a ten kilometre route’. 

Konwitschny’s relationship with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra was enduring and artistically significant, particularly in Beethoven and Bruckner. This performance of the Ninth was recorded by Deutsche Schallplatten Berlin in 1960, with generally successful results. Of course fifty years on it is possible to raise caveats about the results, such as the lack of bloom in the violin sound and the lack of depth in the perspective. Even so this Issue need not be confined to the ‘historical’ drawer. There is atmosphere and there is impact, and one wonders whether this latest issue has re-mastered the original. The minimalist supporting documentation – a glaring weakness since there are neither programme notes nor texts – reveals nothing. 

Theo Adam is the only widely known international artist among the line-up of soloists. He is on excellent form, delivering a really arresting initial recitative to set up Schiller’s Ode. Together the vocal quartet make an effective team, and the chorus is held in a suitable perspective, ensuring a powerful culmination. 

The first movement sets what seems an ideal pulse, with great tension generated in the first subject and a soothing lyricism in the second. The control of dynamics and of symphonic momentum is impressive, so too the orchestral playing and discipline, to the extent that the first movement rates as the highlight of the whole experience. 

The second movement scherzo, so strongly motivic in its rhythmic insistence, has thrilling entries by the timpani, a galvanizing effect and is particularly well captured by the recording. Again the tempo feels absolutely right. 

It is in the slow movement, inevitably, where the quality of the sound comes into question. The famous EMI recording made two years earlier with Otto Klemperer (CDC 7471892) is rather more successful sonically. Even so, Konwitschny’s shaping of the musical line is eloquence itself, and seldom has Sir George Grove’s observation about the second subject seemed more true: ‘Guaranteed to bring tears to the eyes of strong men with whiskers’. 

The finale, once again, is admirably shaped, the introductory drama of orchestral rhetoric giving way to the eloquent line of the principal theme, so beautifully shaped. 

While this reissue may not leap to the position of top recommendation, at its budget price it is well worth acquiring for the experience of hearing a great symphony brought to life by one if its greatest interpreters. 

Terry Barfoot


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