Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Choral Op. 125 (1823)
Pilar Lorengar (soprano); Yvonne Minton (mezzo); Stuart Burrows (tenor); Martti Talvela (bass)
Chicago Symphony Chorus and Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti
rec. May 1972, Krannert Center, University of Illinois. ADD
Notes and text of the “Ode to Joy” in four languages.
DECCA PRESTO CD 430438-2 [76:30]
I am not sure why this sterling recording has attracted
controversy for its supposedly slow tempi, given that Solti adopts speeds
virtually identical to that of Furtwängler’s celebrated final
live performance at the Lucerne Festival in 1954. The only difference
is that Solti opts to take the Molto vivace repeat skipped
by most conductors and thus extends its duration by a couple of minutes.
Similar timings do not necessarily imply similar treatment and there
remains the question of whether Solti succeeds in maintaining the requisite
inner tension in the Adagio or allows proceedings to drag.
I do not personally find this to be so; the sheer beauty of the orchestral
playing from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Solti’s grasp
of structure - the meticulous manner, for example, in which Solti builds
towards the momentous brass climax at 15:33 - convince me that his is
a wholly homogeneous vision.
It is true that conductors in other famous versions take very different
views of each movement, especially regarding their tempi, but that does
not necessarily invalidate either theirs or Solti’s choices as
long as the overall conception gels. In the opening Allegro ma non
troppo, only Cluytens takes more time, but like Solti here, Furtwängler
and Thielemann in his recentish recording with the VPO, his Choral Symphony
is a broad, spacious, grandly played account. Conversely, Klemperer,
supposedly a conductor often inclined to set more deliberate tempi,
live at the Royal Festival Hall in 1957 plays the first movement in
just under a quarter of an hour, while Leinsdorf in Boston in 1969 is
even a minute faster than that. So much for reputations.
Yet in the same performance Klemperer’s Molto vivace
is at a leisurely 15:20, whereas Schmidt-Isserstedt and Karajan in the
mid-1970s romp home in just over ten minutes. Their dynamism is decidedly
effective, with Karajan truly exciting and Schmidt-Isserstedt relentlessly
compelling, whereas Klemperer generates a kind of slow-burn menace.
Yet I do not detect any lack of weight, energy or drive in Solti’s
version; in short, all these conductors make personal, valid and highly
However, it is the finale which crowns Solti’s recording and explains
why so many previous reviewers rank it amongst their favourites. From
the moment the growling double basses make their opening statement through
to the glorious paean of universal love, this movement rivets the listener’s
attention and sweeps all before it. The sonorous quality of the Chicago
Symphony Orchestra combined with the power and attack of the Chorus
would themselves almost be enough to recommend this recording, but the
addition of a stellar vocal quartet clinches it. A young Martti Talvela
had already contributed magisterially to the equally recommendable Schmidt-Isserstedt
recording in 1965, but the distinction of his singing here eclipses
even that. Stuart Burrows is one of the few tenors able to retain sweetness
of tone while ensuring that every note penetrates the glorious din;
Solti deliberately trivialises the “toy band” episode just
before the final explosion in order to heighten the impact of his entry.
Pilar Lorengar’s vibrant and faintly tremulous soprano creates
a kind of febrile excitement and even Yvonne Minton, through her trenchant
tone, does the impossible by drawing the listener’s attention
the beauty of the mezzo-soprano’s harmonisations.
Solti's movement timings are as follows:
I. Allegro ma no troppo, un poco maestoso [17:39]
II. Molto vivace [13:57]
III. Adagio molto cantabile [19:46]
IV. Presto [24:59]
In short then, as long as you respond to Solti’s daringly etiolated
tempi in the Adagio, this is definitely among the top choices for a