Beethoven, Arr. Wagner

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COMPOSERS: Arr. Wagner,Beethoven
WORKS: Symphony No. 9 (Choral)
PERFORMER: Noriko Ogawa (piano), Yoshie Hida (soprano), Yuko Anazawa (alto), Makoto Sakurada (tenor), Chiyuki Urano (bass); Choir of the Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
Wagner had scarcely reached his 18th birthday when he completed this transcription of the Ninth Symphony by his idol, Beethoven. And it’s something of a curiosity. To ears familiar with the original score of the Choral (and most, presumably, will be) the piano is no real substitute for the orchestra, and when the solo voices and a scaled-down 24-member chorus are added in the finale, one cries out for the orchestral colour and range. The piano inevitably sounds monochrome by comparison, and at the conclusion of the symphony, after the choral singing has finished, the inaptness of the piano’s tone is particularly evident. However, if a composer feels impelled to make a piano arrangement of a work so inherently orchestral in spirit, this is probably the best that could be done. Noriko Ogawa is a phenomenally gifted pianist, a household name in her native Japan, and,her handling of this massive score is a near miracle. To sample the clarity of detail and the uncannily precise balance between hands, try the second-movement scherzo at the 8-minute and 11-minute marks, or the powerfully declamatory start to the finale, or the easy flow of the latter movement’s recitative. The soloists are in splendid voice, the chorus from the Bach Collegium Japan lively and bright.