- Symphony No. 9 in D minor ("Choral"), Op. 125
You've probably heard the story. Well, maybe a few of you still haven't, so I'll tell it again. Do you know how they decided how much music a compact disc should hold? You don't know? Take a look at the headnote-there's your answer. That's right, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was the determining factor. This work is extremely popular in Japan. When compact disc technology was being developed there, a Sony executive insisted a single disc should be able to accommodate the glorious Beethoven Ninth. That meant, depending on the performance, it would have to hold around seventy minutes of music. Of course, that limit has now been increased to eighty minutes-plus. I'm quite happy Beethoven's Ninth wasn't a mere thirty or forty minutes in length. Aren't you? I'm also glad to have this recording, for I love this work, love it in such a fine performance as this. That said, I'm a bit disappointed, too. Oh, the Berlin Philharmonic under the insightful Abbado plays superbly. And the superstar quartet of singers perform admirably. It's just that any new recording of the Beethoven Ninth must go up against the imposing likes of Harnoncourt/Teldec, Bernstein/DG, Jochum/EMI, and Toscanini (in any number of releases). And this recording, while compelling enough, isn't quite up to that supremely inspired level. Don't take that to mean this isn't a splendid effort on the part of all concerned here: this is a superior performance, worlds ahead of that growing heap of Ninths in the catalogs. The first movement has a majestic sweep, an irresistible muscularity that captures that Beethovenian heroism so essential in an effective performance. Abbado's reading here exudes wisdom in his adroit phrasing--phrasing where nothing is overdone and everything sounds in perfect proportion. The Scherzo is rendered with drive and finesse, the Adagio with passion and tenderness. And the finale, especially the latter half, is full of glory and passion, commitment and exuberance. In fact, in this movement this performance matches any other I've heard when it comes to capturing that elusive ecstasy, that feeling the composer is transporting you to a new dimension of musical expression. This is a recording any purchaser can certainly be fully satisfied with. Abbado and BPO fans will surely not be let down by it, nor will those of the individual members of the highly touted quartet of singers here. Abbado himself wrote the accompanying notes. In them he discusses the Jonathan del Mar edition, used in this recording for the first time in conjunction with the original handwritten score and other unspecified "musicolgical sources." This performing edition uncovers nothing of earth-shaking importance: it's essentially the Beethoven Ninth you know. The sound is good. Recommended, despite my reservations.