WORKS: Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 ‘Choral’
PERFORMER: Christiane Oelze (soprano), Ingeborg Danz (mezzo-soprano), Christoph Strehl (tenor), David Wilson-Johnson (bass-baritone); Collegium Vocale Gent; Academia Chigiana Siena; Royal Flemish Philharmonic/Philippe Herreweghe
CATALOGUE NO: PentaTone PTC 5186 317 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Philippe Herreweghe’s Ninth gets off to a good start, with vivid accounts of the first two movements, aided by fine playing from the Royal Flemish Philharmonic. Things fare less well, however, in the symphony’s latter half.
This was one of Beethoven’s few works to which he assigned metronome markings, but even so they often seem curiously at odds with the music’s character and purpose – and, indeed, with the tempo descriptions Beethoven also provided.
Any conductor following the slow movement’s given metronomic speed to the letter, as Herreweghe does, can’t hope to convey the prescribed Adagio molto e cantabile. Coming, as it does, after two energetic and dramatic movements (for the only time in his symphonies, Beethoven places his scherzo before the slow movement), the piece needs much more serenity than it has here.
Conversely, the ‘presto’ marking of the discordant fanfare that launches the finale is belied by a surprisingly steady metronome indication, and in Herreweghe’s hands it seriously lacks impetuosity.
Herreweghe’s finale is altogether rather short on dramatic intensity, and the instrumental recitatives that follow that ‘horror’ fanfare sound distinctly lame. Moreover, the first appearance of the famous ‘joy’ theme, on the solo cellos and basses, is marked piano, and many conductors scale that down further in order to lend the passage an appropriate feeling of hushed anticipation. That’s certainly preferable to Herreweghe’s prosaic all-purpose mezzo-forte.
For a modern Ninth that conveys both the music’s theatricality and its beauty, Osmo Vänskä’s Minnesota recording is a firm recommendation. Misha Donat