Pristine Audio continues its record of fascinating issues with
this early recording of the Ninth. Mark Obert-Thorn has transferred
this before, on Pearl; the performance is also available on
Pristine Audio’s transfer is of the highest quality. From the
off, there is a superb presence to the strings, and the recording
does not overload - at least not until the finale: see below.
Much detail is audible from wind even though as a group, they
are distanced. Fried’s quick tempo nevertheless preserves drama.
There are, however, several points in the first movement at
which the music threatens to unravel; it narrowly avoids it
on all occasions. The Scherzo suffers from woolly timpani,
but is taken at the proper lick and the contrasting tempo for
the trio works well. Again, however, there are some scrappy
moments in the faster Scherzo.
The Adagio molto flows beautifully: a clear, slow four
to a bar. It is the molten cantabile that Fried elicits
from his forces that make the initial string statement seem
to glow from within - somewhat like Bernstein – another Mahlerist
– but without the extreme of tempo. The pastoral elements of
the Andante moderato seem writ bold. This is outdoor
music, a stroll through the rolling hills before the mountainous
ascent to Elysium. At 14:08 this is a relatively brisk third
movement, but one that is full of charm. Mishaps are largely
absent, perhaps due to the slower tempo, and one is freer to
revel in the evident joy of the players - some stunning clarinet
playing. Structurally, this is fine interpretation. The recording
fidelity aptly conveys the glow of the strings around 11:20;
the occasional, light use of portamenti by the violins is subtle
If recording limitations blunt the woodwind’s Urschrei
at the onset of the finale, there is presence aplenty for the
lower strings’ recitatives. One can almost hear the attack of
bow on string. Fried’s handling of the “Ode to Joy” theme is
a thing of beauty, lovingly moulded and treated with due reverence,
its inherent possibilities of hope ripe for the picking. Wilhelm
Guttmann has the requisite gravitas (“O Freunde …”) to provide
the platform for the ode “An die Freude” itself. The chorus
is admirably disciplined and comes across well - although string
detail suffers and one’s musical memory does rather come into
play. There is a bright, trumpet-like quality to Eugen Transky’s
Perhaps the staccato, choppy enunciation of the choral statement
of the main theme is rather too blatant, rather too disruptive
of the ongoing musical line, yet it certainly makes the point
of the contrast between this and the ensuing grand legato of
“Seid umschlungen, Millionen”. Soprano Lotte Leonard excels
in the movement’s final quartet, while Wilhelm Guttmann ascends
from a bass bedrock for his short outburst.
The 1928 recording stands up well to the strains of “Über Sternen
muss er wohnen”. The source is a set of French Polydors. Obert-Thorn
is right to assert that “some of the loudest choral passages
overloaded the early microphones, causing a couple of moments
of sputtering which are inherent in the original recording”.
They are not disastrous moments, though, by any means. This
is an invaluable window into a moment of time, now not so far
off a century ago. The end is uplifting, the natural consequence
of what came before.
A different era, different values, different performance traditions.
Fascinating and uplifting.
See also review by Jonathan