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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 9 in D minor Choral Op. 125 (1824)
Gré Brouwenstijn (soprano); Ira Malaniuk (alto); Wolfgang Windgassen (tenor); Ludwig Weber (bass)
Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. live, Bayreuth, 9 August 1954. mono. ADD
ORFEO C851121B [75:11]

Let me get straight to the point: if you already own the Tahra or Music & Arts recordings of Furtwängler’s astonishing account of the Choral Symphony at Lucerne two weeks after this live performance there is nothing about this one which is preferable or superior. The conducting is just as good but otherwise neither the orchestral playing nor the solo or choral singing, nor, above all, the sound is in any way appreciably better here. Although Orfeo must be credited with unearthing scores of really excellent radio broadcasts which respond well to re-mastering, and for all that they assure us that it is “thanks to completely new techniques that have finally allowed us to restore the damaged tapes of the performance”, there is nothing in these muffled, crumbly sonics to get excited about. It is in fact quite difficult to hear the details which would permit the listener to make real comparisons with other performances. This except for the oddly prominent, though enjoyable, highlighting of the plaintive bassoon solo which counterpoints and decorates the first appearance on strings of the “Ode to Joy” theme. The choir is very distant but were evidently making a grand sound under director Wilhelm Pitz.
Ludwig Weber‘s somewhat wobbly but imposing bass is not ideal; he is in danger of falling off the melismata upon the word “Freude” on his entry. He also has trouble sustaining a clean legato but his top notes are secure. Ira Malaniuk is adequate but also wobbly in the ungrateful mezzo line. Wolfgang Windgassen’s rather nasal tenor sounds distinctly ill at ease in his martial ditty, sliding up to all his higher notes and having trouble sustaining a pleasing tone in the high tessitura of his part. Gré Brouwenstijn’s vibrant soprano is at times distorted by the recording into something of a shriek and in truth the quartet before the final apotheosis is ragged and ill-tuned; unfortunately, it is precisely at this point that the original tapes suffer most from flutter and “wibbling” which it would seem lay beyond the powers of the sound engineer to correct.
No; this is not the Choral by which we should remember Furtwängler. Go to the issues I cite above for a much more satisfactory listening experience which does him justice.  

Ralph Moore 

Masterwork Index: Beethoven symphony 9