Beethoven: Symphony No. 9; Choral Fantasy

Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/Pablo Heras-Casado et al (Harmonia Mundi)

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CD_HMM90243132_Beethoven

Beethoven
Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 ‘Choral’; Fantasia for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra in C minor, Op. 80*
*Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano), Christiane Karg (soprano), Marianne Beate Kielland (mezzo-soprano), Werner Güra (tenor), Florian Boesch (baritone); Zurich Singakademie; Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/Pablo Heras-Casado
Harmonia Mundi HMM902431.32   79:54 mins

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This disc will provoke fiercely opposed reactions. For anybody – and it used to be all serious music-lovers – who regards Beethoven 9 as not only a monumental masterpiece, but an affirmation of the values inherent in European civilisation, to be performed on such occasions as the demolishing of the Berlin Wall, this account is likely to seem a negation, even when we’ve endured Hogwood, Norrington and their ilk. Yet it goes beyond them in dismantling the Ninth, not in the remarkable speed at which it all moves, but in the intensity with which every last player invests his part in its fury and wildness. I haven’t heard Heras-Casado and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra before, but there is evidently an exceptionally close relationship between and among them, and the effect is devastating. It is hard to believe that a slow movement which only lasts 12 minutes can be as moving as this one, or that a scherzo which sounds like a congregation of jackdaws can be so exhilarating and alarming as to involve one in the work as completely as some of the great ‘historic’ recordings do, but listen and be amazed.

It seems a pity that after that the disc should be completed with a performance of the Fantasy Op. 80 for piano, chorus and orchestra, which sounds always as if it’s by a mediocre composer emulating the Ninth but Kristian Bezuidenhout gives it all he’s got.

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Michael Tanner