This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 • Paavo Järvi, cond; Christiane Oelze (sop); Petra Lang (alt); Klaus Florian Vogt (ten); Matthias Goerne (bar); German CP & Ch (Jan-Sören Fölster, dir) • RCA 88697576062 (SACD: 63:55)
If you take all of the CD recordings of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (about 250), select those played by a chamber orchestra, then select only those played on modern instruments, and then select only those recorded in Super Audio sound, you will be left with the recording under review. Since that’s hardly a rational recommendation, I compared this performance to those by, among others, Nikolaus Harnoncourt with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (Teldec/Warner) and John Eliot Gardiner with his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique (DG).
Rather than a portentous opening, Järvi’s is an impetuous, nervy one that nevertheless commands attention; he is never dull, generating plenty of tension as the music is pulled between austerity and optimism, minor and major modes. In this he is closer to Gardiner than Harnoncourt, whose momentum occasionally flags (at an extra minute’s duration). Crisp articulation, minimal portamento or string vibrato, coupled with the distinct inner voices of the reduced forces (56 musicians), make Järvi’s a first movement of coherence as well as power. For those wary of the potentially puny sound of a chamber ensemble, Järvi’s band makes a splendid noise indeed, with the timpani (hard sticks) especially impressive; the soundstage is full-size and atmospheric, yet it allows for maximum instrumental clarity.
The Scherzo generates tremendous élan in a joyful performance that maintains a balance between propulsion and detail. The trio is genial while sustaining a fluid tempo that heightens the spirit of good feeling. The beautiful third movement moves at a flowing tempo, but Järvi doesn’t neglect the cantabile element as the richness of the writing for strings and winds is given full play; that said, one occasionally misses the luster of a VPO (Rattle) or BPO (Karajan) string section.
Any lack of weight should be most evident in the finale, but I’m hard-pressed to find fault here: The German Chamber Philharmonic makes an impressive commotion at the furious opening. The basses and cellos, in their discursive lead-up to the “Freude” theme, can sound somewhat thin when compared to Harnoncourt’s Chamber Orchestra of Europe (though that may be due in part to Teldec’s closer sound); the Big Theme itself is eloquently realized by the orchestra. Goerne’s rich baritone brings an imploring quality to his plea for brotherhood that is distinctive in music that we know so well. The chorus, numbering 41, is robust and sharp, and there are obvious gains in the clarity of its enunciation. Some listeners, no doubt, will miss the power of a larger choral ensemble, but I prefer the immediacy of this performance to those with more heft.
Järvi’s alla Marcia section moves smartly and jauntily, leading to a very moving “Seid umschlungen Millionen.” The final episodes travel at a brisk pace, enthusiastically conveyed by soloists, chorus, and orchestra alike. Järvi is faithful to both the spirit and the letter of the music; comparison with Benjamin Zander’s scrupulously researched and performed Ninth (Carlton Classics) finds Järvi in accord at all crucial points (though his final prestissimo really takes flight).
I won’t go so far as to claim that this new Ninth is revolutionary, though it can be revelatory, further evidence (if any is needed by now) that performances played on modern instruments and informed by historical research can affect us as convincingly as the classic recordings of an earlier era. Järvi’s entire Beethoven cycle is competitive with any recent set and brings a renewed sense of discovery to this thrice-familiar music. Most highly recommended.
FANFARE: Christopher Abbothttp://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=390492