Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (CD Review)

Measha Brueggergosman, Kelley O'Connor, Frank Fopardo, Rene Pape; Franz Welser-Most, the Cleveland Orchestra. DG B0009661-02.

I've always liked maestro Franz Welser-Most. He made a big splash on EMI records some years ago and then sort of disappeared from the scene. It's good to see him as the Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra and hear another of his recordings, this time on DG.

Welser-Most's performance of the Beethoven Ninth Symphony is, like much of the conductor's work, sensitive and moving. He takes most of the tempos at extremes, either fast or slow, which may infuriate some listeners and delight others. Certainly, there is nothing routine about the interpretation. The third-movement Adagio is especially gracious and lovely, and the choral finale generates about as much excitement as any you'll hear on disc.

The snag is the recording. DG did it live, which for me is often the kiss of death. Although it is smooth in the midrange and strongly dynamic in its impact, the highs are more than a bit bright, the upper bass is woolly, the deep bass is wanting, and the whole affair sounds shrouded and veiled. Compare Solti (Decca), Zinman (Arte Nova), or Bohm (DG). To ensure that the mood is broken at the end, DG include an eruption of applause for Welser-Most, which always reminds me of producers using laugh tracks on television comedies. Moreover, DG provide the album with one of the most god-awful covers I've seen in ages: large, alternating light and dark purple squares with the words "Beethoven Symphony No. 9" and other details spelled out in orange letters. Purple and orange. Just the ticket for Beethoven.


1 comment:

  1. This is another totally unneeded commercial product. Produced by boneheads. Of a great piece of art. Sigh...


John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa