So how do you choose a Beethoven Ninth?

So how do you choose a Beethoven Ninth?


norman lebrecht

August 29, 2020

Welcome to the 110th work in the Slipped Disc/Idagio Beethoven Edition

Symphony No. 9 in D minor op. 125 (part 3)

(How Beethoven wrote it here. How the world changed it here).

There is so much going on in the ninth symphony that I’m tempted to confine this essay entirely to the opening movement and would certainly do so were it not for the fear that a focus on one movement might distort the whole. Beethoven did not intend the symphony to be broken into its component parts. The riddles that he plays on us in the hour of the Ninth can only be cracked once the symphony is consumed as a singular entity.

Approaches to the symphony diverge to an extreme degree, as shown by the variance of timings in the opening movement. Oscar Fried in the first known recording in 1929 (not on Idagio) performs the movement in 14 minutes.  Wilhelm Furtwängler hovers around 18-19 minutes. His antipode Toscanini is done in under 13, quicker even than period instrument specialists. Herbert von Karajan, in around twenty recordings, is remarkably consistent at around the 15-minute mark. Otto Klemperer clocks in at 17. Apart from demonstrating that some conductors drive 50 percent faster than others, what we learn from the stop-watch is that Beethoven has created a symphonic expanse of almost limitless plasticity. For the complete symphony, Karl Böhm took 65 minutes in 1941 and 79 minutes in 1979,  neither fully convincing.

The first movement opens with a tremor of strings, twenty seconds of nothing much happening until the whole orchestra chimes in. Beethoven did this before in his fourth symphony but to less revelatory effect. The British analyst Sir Donald Tovey calls it ‘a radiating point for all subsequent experiments for enlarging the time-scale of music. No later composer has escaped its influence.’ It appears to evoke a pastoral atmosphere, but with an air of mystery and something ominous about it. Beethoven uses intervals of As and Es without a third between them and packs more notes into a bar than ought responsibly to be there. Conductors who can get through the first half-minute without losing count heave a silent sigh of relief. With so much going on, Beethoven takes mischievous pleasure in throwing in a climax at unexpected points. Only when the symphony is over – if you can remember back that far – do we realise that he has completely subverted the Haydn rules of sonata form and is throwing open the symphony to every kind of expansion. What is he actually saying? Something like: ignore the rules, follow your fantasy. Here’s Marin Alsop’s take on the movement:

For my own reference listening, I often turn to Klaus Tennstedt to understand the rule-breaking nature of the work, or to Roger Norrington, who enters the symphony with conversational ease, invitating us to participate in the process. Tennstedt with his naive inspiration and Norrington with his intellectual reasoning are perfect antipodes in this piece.

The second movement gets several degress wilder. Nominally a scherzo, which suggests a light-hearted passage, almost a joke, the movement is twice as long as any scherzo Beethoven ever wrote and not funny at all. In fact, it’s quite alarming. There’s a racing, throbbing propulsion and a determined lack of guidance. Brisk drum beats heighten the unease. We won’t know where this is going until it’s all over. Otto Klemperer attacks the movement in the 1950s with a very heavy tread that conveys an irrefutable authority. Claudio Abbado, with the Berlin Philharmonic in 2000, maintains a gossamer delicacy without loss of tautness. Somewhere between these two lies what I am seeking.

Here’s Marin Alsop again:

The gentle release of an Adagio, when it finally comes around, is one of the most overwhelming consolations in the whole of musical culture. The movement is not slow, as Adagios are meant to be. Beethoven puts in a metronome mark of 60, which is fairly crisp, making it all the harder to achieve a combination of sentiment and momentum. The young Sergiu Celibidache achieves a convincing muscularity, while George Szell favours hand-tailored elegance in the mind games that Beethoven is playing, giving us variations on two incomplete themes, and interleaving them. One suspects he is having an interlude of private fun before hitting us with the great apotheosis.

I find it pointless to analyse the finale in words. Too many have been splashed on it already without adding to our insight. When I am asked for a listening guide, I tend to direct people towards the best set of singers – for instance, Karajan’s 1950s Vienna quartet of Lisa della Casa (Soprano), Hilde Rössel-Majdan (Alto), Waldemar Kmentt (Tenor) and Otto Edelmann (Bass); or Andris Nelsons in 2019 with Camilla Nylund, Georg Zeppenfeld, Gerhild Romberger and the utterly transcendent tenor Klaus Florian Vogt.

But that’s a cop-out on my part since the finale, like the rest of the symphony, is greater than the sum of its vocal performers. True, a botched bass entry at Oh, Freunde! can crash the entire concert, but we require more than a celestial set of soloists to create a milestone performance.

I am about to give a longlist of what I consider to be the defining accounts on record. There is too little space left in this post to whittle them down to a shortlist, so I shall have to leave you hanging for a few days until I whittle down a set of ultimate indispensables.

The longlist goes something like this:

Fried/Berlin 1929

Weingartner/Vienna 1935

Arturo Toscanini/NBC 1939, 1952; La Scala, 1946

Mengelberg/Concertgebouw 1940

Kazuo Yamada, 1942

Hans Schmidt Isserstedt, 1951 (with Birgit Nilsson), Vienna 1956

Erich Kleiber, Vienna 1952

Bruno Walter, Vienna 1955, New York 1959

Otto Klemperer, Amsterdam 1956, London 1957

Jascha Horenstein, Vienna 1956

Ferenc Fricsay, Berlin 1957

Celibidache, Turin 1958, Munich 1999

Pierre Monteux, Boston 1958

Charles Munch, Boston 1958

Ernest Ansermet 1959 (with Joan Sutherland)

René Leibowitz, London 1961

George Szell, Cleveland 1961

Fritz Reiner, Chicago 1961,

Leonard Bernstein, NY 1964, Vienna 1979

Leopold Stokowski, London 1969

Erich Leinsdorf, Boston (1969, BMG)

George Solti, Chicago 1972, 1994

Kurt Masur, Leipzig 1975, New York 1999

Rafael Kubelik, Munich 1975, 1982

Lorin Maazel, Cleveland 1979

Claudio Abbado, Vienna 1987, Berlin 1996

Roger Norrington, London 1987,

Roy Goodman/Hanover Band,  London 1988

Christopher Hogwood, London 1989

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, 1991

Charles Mackerras, Liverpool 1991

Riccardo Muti, Philadelphia 1992

Klaus Tennstedt, London 1992

John Eliot Gardiner and L’orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, 1994

Frans Brüggen, 1993

Bernard Hatink, Amsterdam 1994, London 2006

David Zinman, Zurich 1998

Daniel Barenboim Berlin 1999

Simon Rattle, Vienna 2002, Berlin 2016

Herbert Blomstedt, Dresden 2003

Mariss Jansons, Munich 2007

Mikhail Pletnev, Moscow 2007

Franz Welser-Möst, Cleveland 2007

Thomas Dausgard, Stockholm 2009

Philippe Herrweghe, Paris 2011

Riccardo Chailly, Leipzig 2011

Christian Thielemann, Vienna 2011

Philippe Jordan, Vienna 2017

Andris Nelsons, Vienna 2018

Adam Fischer, Copenhagen 2019

Masaki Suzuki, Tokyo 2019

Bernard Haitink, Munich 2019

Who have I forgotten? Wilhelm Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan, of course, the mainstream conductors of the central Austro-German tradition in the 20th century. Each man left up to 20 recordings of Beethoven’s ninth symphony.

I shall have to sort them out in the next post before I can get to a shortlist.



  • Yi Peng Li says:

    Could you add Mackerras’s Philharmonia version (2006), Dausgaard and Antonini versions to your longlist? I think you might have omitted them when you wrote this post.

  • ira says:

    i offer for consideration an lp i haven’t heard in years so i can’t comment on the performance but it certainly reads well! monteux, soederstroem, resnik, vickers, ward and the lso.

    • Peter Phillips says:

      I remember that double lp on World Record Club and yes, it was a great performance. The fourth side was a rehearsal sequence which ended with a lively run through of La Marseillaise.

  • ThrownOutOfTheKremlinForSinging says:

    My three favorites are:

    * Bohm 1963 conducting from Bayreuth with soloists George London, Jess Thomas, Grace Bumbry, and Gundula Janowitz

    * Furtwangler 1951 conducting the Wiener Philharmoniker with Josef Greindl, Anton Dermota, Sieglinde Wagner, and Irmgard Seefried

    * Zubin Mehta 1993 conducting the NY Philharmonic with Matti Salminen, Jon Vickers, Marilyn Horne, and Margaret Price

  • Robin Gausebeck says:

    Over-long it may be, schmaltzy, sentimental, a last gasp from a powerhouse conductor but my favorite of the Beethoven 9th recordings that I own has to be the 1989 Bernstein performance marking the fall of the Berlin wall. The simple substitution of the word “freiheit” brings a depth of emotion to this symphony that I believe Beethoven would have endorsed.

    • Tony Magee says:

      My thoughts too Robin. The passion, feeling and absolute dedication of the devoted musicians and singers to the purpose and importance of this Berlin Freedom Concert performance, with its international cast, epitomises the possibilities of human artistic achievement in uniting in a cause – in this case, a celebration of peace and unification. Here it is on YouTube, including the spoken introduction by British music broadcaster of the time, Humphrey Burton, who also directed the event for the live TV broadcast, which reached millions around the world.

  • Ramesh Nair says:

    I don’t know why Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt’s mid-1960s Beethoven symphony cycle is almost habitually overlooked. It was magnificently recorded by Decca, without the brighter, more shallow string sound from HvK’s early 1960s BPO. There’s not a duff, write-off interpretation amongst the 9, and the Ninth is splendid. Its vocal quartet : Sutherland/Horne/King/Talvela is IMHO more than a darn sight better than the quartet in Chailly’s circa 2010 cycle, or in the various Rattle BPO concert videos. As for the first movement, Beethoven’s indications [ pace the metronome markings ] are ‘Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso’. That’s what you get from S-I. Beethoven’s qualifiers ‘ma non’ & ‘un poco’ weren’t specified frivolously.

  • Bruce says:

    IMNVHO there’s no point trying to find the “best” recording, since there are so many great ones out there. Instead (again, IMNVHO) the thing to do is find:

    • a great conductor, i.e. one you like
    • a great orchestra, i.e. one you like
    • a great set of soloists, i.e. ones you like

    …in whatever order of importance you choose, and start from there. The piece tends to bring out the best in performers, so any choice you make is relatively safe: Beethoven 9 is unlikely to be where your favorite __________ (see categories, above) screws up.

    Anyway, after that you can start getting picky about recording quality, quality of remaster, price (is it worth buying on SACD, or is just enough to have it on your YouTube Favorites list?), and shelf (or hard drive) space… as well as about performances (is the slow movement too slow? Is the finale too fast? Can you make out the sextuplets at the very opening? Do you care? …and on and on).

    Be aware that you will end up with several recordings.

  • Dear Norman,

    Masaaki Suzuki, not Masaki.
    Nice that you included him – a true period instruments expert with his Bach Collegium Japan.

  • will says:

    Michael Tilson Thomas 1983 ought to be on your ‘long list’. By the way, The Hannover Band (1988) isn’t based in Wales.

  • HugoPreuss says:

    Günter Wand with the NDR Symphonieorchester is missing from that list. Really, really missing.

  • sam says:

    Why did Kleiber the Younger never record (perform) the Ninth? (Especially considering his 3, 5, 7 are legendary.) This begs to be psychoanalyzed, some sort of ultimate Oedipus Complex.

    • Yi Peng Li says:

      You make me wish that DG had done complete symphonic cycles with Kleiber.

    • Joel Stein says:

      Is there a Carlos Kleiber Eroica? Or did you mean 6?

      • Yi Peng Li says:

        No, there isn’t a Kleiber Eroica. I was saying that we wished Kleiber had recorded complete Beethoven and Brahms cycles. We only have the studio versions of Beethoven 5 and 7 and live versions of the 4th and the Pastoral.

        • Petros Linardos says:

          Also live 4 and 7 with the Concertgebouw, and live 7 SACD with the Bavarian State Orchestra. Still, only 4-7 from Carlos Kleiber. Boo hoo.

  • annon says:

    Youtube has voted, and the video with the highest hits (of a live orchestra playing, as opposed to a imageless recording) is…Muti and Chicago, closing in on 24 million.

    Inexplicably, the “video” with the highest hits for an imageless recording is…Krips and the LSO, with 104 million clicks.

    Why oh why, internet?

    • David K. Nelson says:

      I think I know why Annon. Because for years and years in the late 1960s and thru most of the 1970s, and maybe even into the early 1980s, there was a sort of traveling “cheap record” sale that would go to university book stores in the USA, where chronically broke students who liked music (this was the LP era) could buy records for $1.99 or even just $.99, and box sets such as the Beethoven Symphonies were even cheaper on a per LP basis.

      And a mainstay label for these sales was Everest, the label for …. you guessed it, Josef Krips and the London Symphony’s go at all nine Beethovens. I believe the 9th was also available as a separate discs. Vox was also well represented, which is why for many years supposedly the very best selling recording of the Beethoven violin concerto was not Heifetz, not Stern, not Oistrakh, not Menuhin, but … Susanne Lautenbacher, on Vox. And my hunch is that college students at those record sales (they were twice a year at the schools I attended) put her over the top.

      Even students who weren’t deeply into classical music could experiment to see what all the “excitement” was about with these cardboard bins of cheap LPs. I suspect they made not a few converts. I was always surprised in the dorms to see that most collections of LPs had a classical record or two, and this was before Vivaldi’s Four Seasons became the token classical holding.

      It was also the era of the World Record Club which also sold very cheap LPs including “mystery boxes” for almost no money and you’d get ten or so LPs that were their choice of music not yours. And if you talked a friend into signing up for the World Record Club you got some huge bonus of free LPs. And once again, Everest records was a mainstay of the Club’s offerings (but so was Philips when in a burst of energy they basically shut down their bargain label and deleted tons of classical from their main label and also Mercury. And the World Record Club was very heavily promoted to college students in the USA.

      So a generation of folks snooping around on YouTube is going to see a name they recognize like Josef Krips, and a recording they quite possibly owned and played to death and got rid of once the CD era arrived. And his recording has good singers by the way. Don’t blame the internet. Blame the power of memory and inertia.

      • William Safford says:

        I own the Krips Beethoven cycle on CD. I bought it decades ago.

        As you say, at the time, the price was so low, I could buy it just to see if I liked it.

        I haven’t listened to it in decades.

  • Peter Phillips says:

    So many Furtwängler performances to choose from, not all of them vintage. In addition to Bayreuth 1951, there’s Lucerne 1954. But perhaps the most complex and unsettling one is Berlin 1942. It isn’t and shouldn’t be an easy experience. There is also, if you can find it, a live London performance with the BPO from the Queen’s Hall in 1937. I believe that Toscanini conducted the work in the same season with the BBCSO. Riches indeed!

  • mary says:

    There’s something almost perverse to have Alsop explain the 9th, but not include her performance of the 9th on the list, as though to say, sure, intellectually you get it, but artistically, you haven’t executed your thoughts.

  • Novagerio says:

    My three are: Furtwängler Berlin 1942 (a true war recording containing anger – despair – acceptance, very little hope but plenty of exaltation) – Karajan Berlin 1962 and Schmidt-Isserstedt, from the Vienna set on Decca.

  • Mock Mahler says:

    I suppose it’s well-known that the playing length of the compact disc was said to be determined by a full performance of Beethoven’s Ninth without switching. This was 1980 and the length was 75 minutes. But if Bohm took 79 minutes in 1979, there was already a problem!

    • Gerald Martin says:

      I once read the playing length of the L.P. was set by the Eroica Symphony. Odd, considering the necessity of splitting the third movement across sides.

    • Tony Magee says:

      That’s correct Mock. In December 1982, my boss, Rudi Langeveld who owned a specialist Hi-Fi store here in Canberra, Australia and was a major Sony dealership, was invited to Tokyo for the official “launch” of Compact Disc in October 1982. It was presided over by then Sony founder and still chairman, Akio Morita, who has secured Herbert von Karajan as his star musical guest. Morita explained, before introducing von K, that the final decision on the playing time of a CD was determined by von Karajan’s suggestion that it should be able to contain Furtwangler’s 1951 Bayreuth performance of the 9th without changing discs – thus a single CD release (which came out on EMI).

    • Yi Peng Li says:

      I secretly wish that Sony and Philips had designed 90-minute CDs.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    In no particular order:
    Furtwangler 1942
    Toscanini 1939
    Karajan 1962
    Fricsay 1957
    E. Kleiber 1952

  • DML says:

    Giulini, London 1972???

  • David Sanders says:

    Solti’s second recording of the 9th with the CSO was in September, 1986.

  • Catherine Boese says:

    Personally, my favorite is the videoed 1968 Karajan version with Gundula Janowitz, Christa Ludwig, Jess Thomas, and Walter Berry. It’s where I first discovered the sweet tones of Janowitz (now my favorite singer) and got into opera.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Hi Catherine,
      I agree with you one million percent re: Gundula Janowitz!
      One of my favorite Ninths (see my list elsewhere in this post) is the Karajan 1962 with Janowitz. I haven’t seen the video you mention.
      I have dozens of recordings of GJ: opera, oratorio, song. Never is she less than heavenly, even on the occasions when her surroundings do not honor her.
      My favorite Matthew Passion, a dark horse choice to be sure, is Karajan’s with Janowitz. Everything about it is simply beautiful, and GJ will break your heart, she is so exquisite.
      And she is a Pamina (with Klemperer) to die for!
      – best regards, Greg

  • ThrownOutOfTheKremlinForSinging says:

    I have a special place in my heart for the Klemperer with Gustav Neidlinger singing the bass-solo, just because he is so wild. For those of you who don’t know, he was famous for portraying evil characters, especially Alberich and Klingsor. Here’s his Alberich:

    And here’s his Ode2Joy, sounding almost equally frenzied and rough:

    How can anyone not love this?

  • Michael Bruce says:

    I don’t see how you can really discuss tempi with mentioning Beethoven’s metronome markings. Some composers were happy to leave this issue to the performers judgement but I am not sure Beethoven was. I certainly think it is worth indicating which performances broadly follow the composers intentions.

    • will says:

      Roger Norrington (1987)

    • Yi Peng Li says:

      You could add Gardiner, Mackerras’s two versions, Chailly, Zinman, Antonini, Krivine, Abbado’s 2000 version and Dausgaard. Bruggen’s two versions and the Adam Fischer recording broadly keep to the speeds but depart for the Turkish March variation
      in the finale. Before this cohort, Toscanini, Leibowitz and Oskar Fried attempted to keep to these speeds. I only wish they had gone fast with the Turkish March and the fugue in the finale.

  • Ed says:

    Michael Gielen (1991)

  • Jazzotter says:

    I look forward to reading further comments about this symphony here and the many meritorious extant recordings of it. In the meantime, I’d like to propose an honorable mention to the 1982 Staatskapelle Berlin recording of it conducted by Otmar Suitner. In the mid-1980’s when CDs were really gaining traction, this was among the first CDs I bought.

  • BrianB says:

    Fried’s 1928 Ninth was by no means the earliest, not even close. There were three complete recordings during the acoustic era. The earliest generally available may be Albert Coates’ HMV recording from 1923. With a chorus consisting of all of eight voices (including the four soloists among whom was Edna Thornton and the ubiquitous George Baker) . Coates re-recorded it electrically. His first movement is about as fast as Toscanini. His was also the only recording(s) until Toscanini’s to include all of the repeats in the 2nd mvt. The other two earliest recordings are from Berlin, a Polydor conducted by Seidler-Winkler and one as early as 1921 by Frieder Weissmann (Eduard Morike in mvt 4) on Parlophone. These are all on you tube.

    One doesn’t choose “a” Ninth, more like 30-40 of them covering the interpretative spectrum. Recently for me, Horenstein’s 1956 (issued in the USA on “Music Appreciation” records with an entire 12″ disc devoted to an analysis–I believe it was Virgil Thomson who referred to the “music appreciation racket.”) ranks very high.
    Bernstein’s live 1989 “fall of the Berlin Wall” recording has impossibly slow mastadonic tempi but there is something about it which compels a listen once every decade or so.
    I think Toscanini’s best is actually a 1938 performance–much better then his 1939–with Ezio Pinza incomparable in the bass solo (with the proper appoggiature, thank you.)

  • Edgar Self says:

    Confession is good for the soul. I’ve heard it live once; Haitink, CSO to end a season, with mismatched quartet and triregistered Eric Owens, a social event for visitors who were disappointed like me,. The fourth horn got every repetition of his solo in the daemonic scherzo’s trio, oiling the dark Satanic mills’ grinding slow but exceeding fine.

    The reason is Furtwaengler, the excellent as enemy of the good, and his dozen-odd versions, all live [n Stockholm, London, Berlin, Lucerne, Bayreuth, Vienna, Salzburg, Italy, South America from 1936-1954.

    I don’t choose, getting caught up in each by turn, but am happiest remembering Bayreuth and Lucerne, grateful for hearing it first from Weingartner, and, as a boy, the very end on the small radio at the desk of our Carnegie librarian. Miss Lillian Newton, in the 1940s, probably Toscanini. I thought it was the Met opera, so likely a Saturday. She gave me Shakespeare’s sonnets and comment ed on eclecticreading, but I was finding what i needed.

    Not Krips, Leibowitz, 0zawa, or Ansermet for me. I enjoy Karajan VPO 1947, Fricsay, and any where the baritone sings the appoggiatura correctly on Toene”. .

    • I will go for Furtwängler Lucerne 1954 with the Philharmonia in excellent stereo sound from Swiss Radio on Tahra. The profundity of this adagio is breathtaking beyond measure; it begins at 32′ 48″

      It is cruel to say it but in comparison I’m afraid there are a few conductors who almost ……. well – “No names, no packdrill !”

      • Yi Peng Li says:

        Can the slow movement be valid at Beethoven’s metronome speed of 60 crotchets in the common-time bar? There are clues to treat the main theme as a cut-time Adagio. Most of the melody notes in the first theme are in minims. If you feel the pulse of the first theme in minims, you can achieve the feeling of stillness and not cheapen the music. Also, you can bring out the links to the slow movements of the Pathetique sonata and the second Razumovsky quartet.

  • William Safford says:

    Do the timings take into account repeats or lack thereof?

  • Hal Hobbs says:

    Thank you for recommending the Tennstedt recording. I listened to it on Spotify yesterday. It’s definitely a recording that I will return to often.

  • Gerd Prengel says:

    Great article on the great symphony! Here you may listen to the furious Scherzo which he sketched with 24 bars for the planned 10th symphony: and which inspired me for a whole movement …

  • Gerald Martin says:

    I was pleased to see the Horenstein– my “imprint” on the work. I used to play movements 1&2 incessantly, to the great annoyance of my father. However, the performance is now now completely defeated by the antediluvian sound, poor even for the 1950s.

    • Luca says:

      Several of us in my class at school bought this version because it was the only one on a single disc. Since I only had a “Dansette” player the poor sound wasn’t apparent to me.

      • Yi Peng Li says:

        I read that Columbia fitted Bruno Walter’s NY Philharmonic version of the Choral on a single LP in the 1950s. Was that issue already available at the time?

        • Gerald Martin says:

          That, the Horenstein (Vox) and Disenhaus (Period) were all single disc ninths released in the U.S. 1956-57. All monophonic, of course. The Disenhaus includes Fritz Wunderlich, tenor.

          • Yi Peng Li says:

            It’s interesting to find a third mono version of the Choral that was originally issued as a single LP. Did Disenhaus take faster speeds than were the norm in the 1950s? There would have been a lot of music to fit onto one LP and the grooves would have had to be narrow.

            Also, apart from Schmidt-Isserstedt and Ansermet, do you know of any stereo recordings of the Choral from the 1960s that were issued on one LP?

  • Golaud says:

    Is there any other work in the entire canon which attracts such a diverse range of valid interpretations and stimulating performances? Can anyone explain why this is? Yes, Beethoven exploded Form and Content, married with humanity etc – but so did other composers. But so far no-one has come close to the iconic stature of this symphony. Why?

  • You forgot Ashkenazy, Norman, but it does not really matter; I think his is among the very best, regardless.

  • Alexander T says:

    Too many to choose. Rattle’s version with the VPO is a waste of time.
    Zero emotional content, a highly polished rendition of the notes and very little else.
    I agree that Böhm is strangely unconvincing.
    I am surprised that Eugen Jochum isn’t included on the shortlist.

  • Tony Magee says:

    Like most others, I own many recordings of this symphony, and many more yet to acquire, but I keep coming back to Karajan’s 1962 version and Fricsay’s 1957 as my two hallmark studio recordings. Live, I’m a huge fan of Furtwängler’s 1951 Bayreuth performance and of course the 1989 Berlin Freedom Concert conducted by Bernstein, with an orchestra made up of members of the Bavarian Radio, Staatskapelle Dresden, the Kirov-Theatre Orchestra of Leningrad, the London Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the Orchestra de Paris, soloists American soprano June Anderson, British mezzo-soprano Sarah Walker, German tenor Klaus König and German bass Jan-Hendrik Rootering. The huge massed adult choir contained The Bavarian Radio Chorus from Munich, joined by singers from the Berlin Radio Chorus, also augmented by the children’s chorus of the Dresden Philharmonie. Wow!
    Here is it on YouTube:

    • Doc Martin says:

      Not Herbie von Carry on and his Mantovani version!

      • Tony Magee says:

        Hi Doc, certainly von K became more obsessed with lushness and smoothness of sound at the expense of drama and emotion, but I don’t think his 1962 recording reflects those things. His final studio recordings of all the Beethoven Symphonies for DGG, in digital, are the really lush ones – perhaps you have a case for comparisons with Mantovani there! BTW, purely out of interest, I was accompanist (at the piano) for several years for a British violinist named Wilfred Jones, after he moved to Canberra, Australia. Prior to that he had been in the 1st violins of Canberra Symphony and concert master of the Tasmanian Symphony. But he started his career in Britain playing with the BBC light music orchestra and the Mantovani orchestra. In our cabaret shows, which were basically a musical biopic of his long career, spiced with many entertaining stories, the one he loved to tell the most was of how the “Mantovani Sound” actually came about. The cascading strings effect was invented by one of his violinists, who sat next to Wilfred, a man named Ronald Binge. He arranged Charmaine, with various sections of the first and second violins and violas coming in split seconds one after the other. The cascading effect was done live, not electronically simulated. Mantovani looked at the arrangement, saw how Ronnie had done it and they tried it out at rehearsal. Mantovani loved it and offered Ronnie 25 British pounds to buy it from him. This became the Mantovani Sound. Wilfred would always finish the story lamenting “…and poor Ronnie sold away a fortune.”

  • Monsoon says:

    For such an overexposed symphony, Szell’s Cleveland recording is the one that always sounds fresh with new discoveries. And the piccolo in the coda is incredible.

    Excellent sound quality.

  • MWnyc says:

    Among period-instrument versions, I like Masaaki Suzuki/Bach Collegium Japan, yes, but also Jos van Immerseel/Anima Eterna.

    I don’t think Herreweghe’s recording on Harmonia Mundi worked (the strain on the choir showed), but I bet that if he re-recorded it now, it would be excellent.

    • Yi Peng Li says:

      What are your thoughts on Gardiner’s version? Also, there is a Herreweghe re-recording of the Choral, I believe, on Pentatone. I forgot the name of the orchestra and even the choir.

  • Doc Martin says:

    The best Furtwaengler recording of the ninth is the one made on 30 May 1953, on the ICA label. It was never released outside Japan. This was because up to 1955 the US controlled Rot-Weiss-Rot Austrian radio and demanded all tapes to be destroyed. In fact in many cases this did not happen. The Yanks took the master tapes away to Japan which was still under US control and they ended up on the Toshiba label, but could not transfer outside Japan.

    In the case of the 1950 Salzburg Fidelio, the yanks left behind some duff copies, the master was taken away. EMI had to use the duff copy and a simultaneous post broadcast copy to Berlin to make its version. The opera d’ora label has issued the 1950 Salzburg Fidelio in better sound, there is also the same performance on the Opus Kura label, with minimum intervention however the sound quality is poor.

  • david moran says:

    zander is always at least interesting and novel in many respects

  • Lunchtime O'Boulez says:

    The symphony orchestra we have today in 2020 evolved during the 19th century as a consequence of the building of public concert halls. Prior to this, hearing a Beethoven symphony depended on luck and whether you could access the private Palaces in Vienna, apart from venues like Theater an der Wien and Redoutensaal, which Beethoven often had difficulty booking.

    Bigger venues hence required bigger orchestras in addition developments in instrument design, valves, keys, metal strings, building acoustics, increase in pitch all changed the overall sound. There also was no school of performance practice/conducting established, the metronome was not established and in any case there is evidence his was not calibrated or faulty, this evolved concurrently to give the homogenised sound of the modern orchestra completely unknown say in 1824.

    Beethoven would certainly be astonished to hear his ninth performed in the way orchestras like VPO and BPO perform it, my belief is he would not be too chuffed about Herbie von Carry on’s Mantovani versions at all.

  • Lunchtime O'Boulez says:

    The Bruno Walter 1955 ninth with VPO recorded as a matinee concert for the reopening of the Wiener Staatsoper, on the Orfeo label is about 64 mins, the one thing I noticed about it is the alla marcia passage does not have that martial feel about it, which you get with say Weingartner, Furtwaengler etc. I assume being out of Europe since 1938, he was making some point.

  • Lunchtime O'Boulez says:

    How many conductors use the Del Mar edition I wonder. It claims to have fixed a multitude of errors which remained in scores used by Weingartner, Furtwaengler, Walter, Klemperer, von Carry on etc.

    • Yi Peng Li says:

      I know that Zinman, Mackerrras, Abbado and Rattle were the first to use the Barenreiter score. I’m not sure about Trevino’s version and even the Adam Fischer recordings. Also, I might suggest that the Hanover Band recordings and Gardiner’s Archiv cycle piloted ideas that show up in the Barenreiter scores even before they were published.