Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 Choral (1824) [62:04]
Lotte Leonard (soprano); Jenny Sonnenberg (alto); Eugen Transky (tenor); Wilhelm Gottman (bass);
Bruno Kittel Choir
Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Oskar Fried.
rec. Berlin, 1928. First issued on Grammophon/Polydor 66657-63.
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 Naxos 8.110929.
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 and expressive.
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 tenor solos.
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.
Colin Clarke
A different era, different values, different performance traditions. Fascinating and uplifting.