Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Beethoven Symphony No.9 'Choral'

Sharon Sweet
Jadwiga Rappe
Paul Frey
Franz Grundheber
Dresden State Opera Chorus Staatskapelle Dresden/Sir Colin Davis

Universal/Classic FM The Full Works

CFM FW 006

I approached this budget series of canonic favourites from Universal with high hopes, but first samplings were surprisingly variable. We were underwhelmed by a Tchaikovsky concertos disc of studio recordings with prestigious soloists Argerich (1970) and Mullova (1985), in which they were miked too forward (a common fault with concerto recordings) and took our time before getting round to putting onto the CD player Sir Colin Davis' 9th from Dresden.

This proved riveting and compelling from beginning to end. It appears to have been a studio recording in Dresden's Lukaskirche (July 1993), but I wondered if it had not been associated with some public performances?

Whatever, it goes high on my experiences of this masterwork, which is one not for everyday.

My only, tiny quibble was with the microphone placement for one of the soloists. The first voice, Grundheber's, made an arresting entry and was not unduly dominant; his diction is particularly noteworthy. Frey, however, was too closely miked for his solo, which briefly disturbed the illusion that this was a live performance as one might have heard it in that church, whose acoustics and resonance seemed ideal for the music. All was well however for the build up for the final section with soloists, choir and orchestra, bringing the symphony to a properly grand conclusion; one did, not for the first time, regret that Beethoven had been so ungenerous to his female soloists, who have to wait so long before their duetting appearance, but that is how it is.

Peter Grahame Woolf

I have been lent by a friend the new Anima Eterna/Immerseel 9th for comparison with Davis in Dresden and sampled some other tracks from the box too; the 1st (the last to be recorded, after the 9th) is delightful, firmly of the 18 C with no pretensions deriving from fore-knowledge of what was to come. The playing by Immerseel's smaller forces is impeccable, and virtuosic at times, giving a frisson of clarity and newly heard sonorities.

Against expectation, we were disappointed by Immerseel's interpretation of the Ninth, predictably faster than many others, including Sir Colin Davis at Dresden, but we are urged to put aside our preconceptions. The conductor's manifesto in the thick booklet (pp. 32-40) brooks no dissent from his well researched conclusions, which appear to summarise HIP (historically informed performance practice) in the first decade of the new century. He does concede finally that all answers constitute new questions and there can be no finality.

Whereas Davis makes it all sound like a live performance in a real place, Immerseel's discs put down in the new concert hall at Bruges have a studio-bound feel with, to my taste, insufficient reverberation. The soloists are too far forward and sound separate from the orchestra and the small choir sounds muddy; all very professional, but lacking the intensity and persuasive conviction - I hesitate to refer to it as 'spirituality' - which pervades Davis's account with his Dresden orchestra. Scholarship takes you a fair way, but conducting needs some indefinable qualties which Immerseel perhaps yet lacks... Passion?

I look forward to returning to the Immerseel set, and would welcome comments from readers?

It is another budget marketing miracle (you should be able to buy it on line for c.£28 for six discs including five overtures) and I would not want to dissuade anyone from this release [Zig Zag Territoires ZZT080402.6]. Luckily, there is no call to choose; everyone should have several sets of the 'nine' and both these 9ths are almost embarrassingly affordable.


Guardian review: - - a bit too careful - - a lack of sheer emotional clout - - hardly Beethoven as a composer breaking free of the bounds of classicism - - still very much anchored in the 18th century.