- Symphony No. 9 in D minor ("Choral"), Op. 125
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The musical humorist Peter Schickele used to conceive of the relationship between conductor and orchestra as a sports contest, delivering a play-by-play account of the first movement of Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67," in the style of a radio announcer. Conductors leading the venerable Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra must feel that way at times: the orchestra does certain things, like honing a gorgeous string sheen, very well indeed, but it can be hard to push the group beyond certain lines. This recording of the "Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125," provides examples, as do other recordings in the complete Nelsons/Vienna cycle from which this release is a single-album excerpt. The first movement is taken slowly and, at times, lacks forward motion, but the colors in the open-fifth material at the beginning are impressive and subtle. Nelsons' dynamic range is low for the most part, extremely so in the first appearance of the famed "Ode to Joy" melody in the cellos and double basses, but it rises to normal and then above, first intermittently and then in quite an exciting choral-vocal finale, with strong soloists who are aware of what Nelsons is doing and give him plenty of space. Where string sheen and strong percussion are called for, in the third and second movements, respectively, the orchestra, of course, sounds great, and Nelsons brings the feeling of an unfolding sequence of events in many passages. The performance certainly has moments where it flags, but it also rewards repeated hearings, and it may be that individual listeners' reactions will vary widely.