Beethoven Symphony No. 9 (Choral)
Rie Miyake (soprano), Mihoko Fujimura (mezzo-soprano), Kei Fukui (tenor), Markus Eiche (baritone); Tokyo Opera Singers/Toshiaki Murakami; Mito Chamber Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa
Decca 483 4431 68:39 mins
The use of a chamber orchestra, and a chamber choir in the finale, might suggest that what’s on offer here is going to be ‘historically informed’. Instead what emerges is a dignified, rather old-fashioned performance – ‘historical’ in a different sense.
It can be quite beautiful, expressively speaking, and technically the playing of the Mito Chamber Orchestra and the singing of the choir and soloists are excellent – wonderful to hear such clear intonation in the final solo quartet. At times it’s surprising how much depth and richness of sound Seiji Ozawa gets from such relatively modest forces. But dignity can also mean sedateness, inability to surrender to the elemental surge of Beethoven’s ideas, especially in those moments when (as Sir Simon Rattle put it so deftly) ‘Beethoven just wants you to drive this bus off a cliff.’ The tragedy of the first movement has measured classical drama but not much personal urgency. Nor does the finale explode onto the scene: the recitatives (instrumental and vocal) are more like a master of ceremonies introducing a prestigious guest speaker at a formal dinner than a prophet-agitator proclaiming the revolution. This comes after an Adagio which, despite some telling moments, ends up feeling disconcertingly cosy, the effect enhanced by the warm rose-glow string vibrato. The feeling for the music is undeniable, but it’s Beethoven tamed, in tie and tails, apparently addressing a small-‘c’ conservative audience. The recording feels a bit too up-close, not just in climaxes but in the more intimate moments of the slow movement too. It may well have been moving to be there, but that hasn’t translated readily into recording terms.