Beethoven: Symphony No. 9

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 "Choral"

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by Wilhelm Furtwangler
     
 

Sunday, July 29, 1951, dawned hot and stayed hot in the small Bavarian town of Bayreuth. But despite the heat, people flocked eagerly to town for the reopening of the Bayreuth Festival, the music festival started 75 years earlier by the composer Richard Wagner. Tainted by Hitler's favoritism and by claims that the composer's music and writings pre-figured Nazi…  See more details below

Overview

Sunday, July 29, 1951, dawned hot and stayed hot in the small Bavarian town of Bayreuth. But despite the heat, people flocked eagerly to town for the reopening of the Bayreuth Festival, the music festival started 75 years earlier by the composer Richard Wagner. Tainted by Hitler's favoritism and by claims that the composer's music and writings pre-figured Nazi ideology, Wagner's Festspielhaus had been shuttered since the end of the war, and its reopening signified to many the rebirth of German culture. Though Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen," "Parsifal," and "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg" were scheduled for performance during that year's festival, the theater itself was reopened by Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony." Because while Wagner was considered the peak of German musical theater, Beethoven was recognized as the apex of German music, and his "Ninth," the symphony with the glorious choral-orchestral setting of Schiller's "Ode to Joy" as a finale, was acknowledged to be the zenith both of Beethoven's oeuvre and of German music. Due to illness, the conductor chosen for the honor of reopening the theater was late arriving in town, and he insisted on closing the dress rehearsal to the public. Expectations were thus running especially high when the lights went down at 8 o'clock and Wilhelm Furtwängler strode across the stage to take the podium. He faced his assembled forces -- 100 members of an orchestra handpicked from the great orchestras of Germany, 400 members of a chorus drawn from both the festival's own choir and neighboring amateur choirs, plus four specially selected soloists: soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, alto Elisabeth Höngen, tenor Hans Hopf, and bass Otto Edelmann -- and, after a pause that some of the audience said lasted an eternity, began the revival of German musical culture. The performance that followed was heard not only by the audience in the theater, but also, thanks to a simultaneous radio broadcast, by hundreds of thousands more, and, after EMI released a recording of the event, by millions more. The greatness of the performance has never been questioned: critics have called it the best of Furtwängler's extant "Ninths" and listeners have kept it continuously in print for more than half a century. This Orfeo release, however, is the first time the performance has been issued by a label other than EMI, and while the actual performance remains as transcendent as ever, the sound quality is vastly different. Where EMI had reduced the ambient noise by clamping down on the upper frequencies and boosting the middle and lower frequencies, Orfeo lets it all hang out with no restrictions or minimizations. The results are astounding. Here, the stark opening Allegro ma non troppo e poco Maestoso, the awe-struck Molto vivace Scherzo, the bliss-filled Adagio molto e cantabile, and the ecstatic closing "Ode to Joy" are all absolutely audible in every detail -- along with the occasional orchestral slips and all the noises an audience can make on a hot summer night in Bayreuth. While the Orfeo recording is in some ways harder listening than the more refined EMI recording, the palpable sense of time and place makes it mandatory listening for anyone who loves the performance or the work.

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Product Details

Release Date:
03/25/2008
Label:
Orfeo
UPC:
4011790754123
catalogNumber:
754081

Related Subjects

Tracks

  1. Symphony No. 9 in D minor ("Choral"), Op. 125  - Ludwig van Beethoven  -  Bayreuther Festspiele Chor  - Otto Edelmann  - Hans Hopf  - Elisabeth Höngen  -  Bayreuther Festspiele Orchester  - Wilhelm Pitz  - Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

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Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 "Choral" 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Ludwigvan1952 More than 1 year ago
The All-Music reviewer gets it right. But I want to emphasize how much more real and tactile the sound is in this incarnation of Furtwangler's Bayreuth Ninth. Beyond reproach for the era. You can listen "into" the orchestra much better than on the EMI version. You can also hear every cough and rustle in the audience. It's a more than fair trade-off. Get it!