Herbert Blomstedt conducts Beethoven’s Choral Symphony No. 9

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Accentus
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Symphony No. 9 (Choral)
PERFORMER: Simona Saturova (soprano), Mihoko Fujimura (alto), Christian Elsner (tenor), Christian Gerhaher (baritone); MDR Radio Choir; Gewandhaus Choir and Children’s Choir; Gewandhaus Orchestra/Herbert Blomstedt
CATALOGUE NO: ACC 20381

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Herbert Blomstedt was in his late eighties when this recording was made in December 2015, but looks as vigorous and youthful as ever, conducting (without a score or a baton) Beethoven’s Ninth with no detail spared. One beneficiary of Blomstedt’s largely traditional approach to the work is the slow movement. It’s become fashionable to take it at a conspicuously flowing tempo, but Blomstedt treats the first of its two themes as a genuine ‘Adagio molto’, allowing the music’s devotional character full rein.

Beethoven’s metronome marking for the discordant fanfares that launch the finale is, for once, on the slow side, and the opening bars often lack impetuosity, but Blomstedt has them hurled forth with all the drama they need. Like a good many conductors, he makes an attacca between the slow movement and finale. It creates a dramatic effect, but it wouldn’t have been possible in Beethoven’s day: quite apart from the fact that there would have been applause between the two pieces, they needed time to retune, and the horns had to fit different crooks for the finale’s new key.

Blomstedt has a strong team of soloists to hand, though Christian Elsner is overstretched by the cruelly demanding tenor part in the ‘Turkish March’ episode. Am I alone in being seriously distracted by the prevailing manner of filming music, with continual cross-cutting between close-ups of individual players? It is deeply unmusical, and provides no idea of the work’s scale, or its contrapuntal fabric.

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Misha Donat