Beethoven – Symphony No. 9 (Choral)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: Symphony No. 9 (Choral)
PERFORMER: hristiane Oelze (soprano), Petra Lang (mezzo-soprano), Klaus Florian Vogt (tenor), Matthias Goerne (baritone); German Chamber Choir & Philharmonic/ Paavo Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: 88697576062 (hybrid CD/SACD)

In his fascinating Radio 3 Building A Library on Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (summarised in the February issue of BBC Music Magazine) three out of Stephen Johnson’s four top recommendations were of recordings made more than 50 years ago, and the fourth, of Abbado’s 1996 ‘live’ recording, is a broadly ‘traditional’ interpretation.
Certainly the first three, conducted by Toscanini, Furtwängler and Klemperer, all register that the conductor regards the Ninth as a great spiritual document. Modern performances, versed in historical awareness, of which this recording by Paavo Järvi is emphatically one, too often disregard that aspect, for many people the key feature, and make the revolutionary qualities of the work reside entirely in its large scale and its often audacious orchestration.
The Bremen Chamber Philharmonic plays superlatively as in earlier releases in this series, and delivers plenty of surprises, even shocks, but none that hint at the work’s ‘philosophical’ dimension. Perhaps that is why the text of Schiller’s Ode to Joy is not printed in the booklet.
The voices are just further instruments, in the case of the solo quartet spectacularly good ones, but without a message. The German Chamber Choir is a professional body of 16 singers, up to coping with Beethoven’s extreme  demands, but that number can’t be overwhelming, as I think the choral  contribution needs to be. 
Järvi’s tempos are faily brisk, with each of the first three movements taking just over 13 minutes, so a slightly broader Scherzo than one might expect, and a flowing Adagio. There is no question that Järvi has strong views about the work, which he has imparted to his small, fervent orchestra.
There is intensity, disruptiveness and excitement here, and it is well worth listening to. For me, though, it is a very partial view indeed of the work, and I would still recommended Klemperer’s live recording from 1957, which conveys the music’s cosmic grandeur and depth. Michael Tanner