Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 9
Emmanuel Krivine, cond; Sinéad Mulhern (sop); Carolin Masur (mez); Dominick Wortig (ten); Konstantin Wolff (bbar); Les Éléments C Ch; Chambre Philharmonique (period instruments)
NAÏVE 5202 (63:24
Text and Translation) Live: Grenoble, Vichy, and Paris 6/2–6/2009
La Chambre Philharmonique characterizes itself as a new kind of orchestra; drawn from a variety of European ensembles, democratic both in the matters of membership and of
interpretation, and assembled a few weeks out of the year to play for the sheer joy of it. This recording is part of a growing series of period-instrument recordings by this collaborative, starting with an acclaimed Mozart K 457 Mass in C Minor. The light-footed Mendelssohn and bracing, wind-dominated Dvo?ák symphonies that followed were more controversial. Though they won awards in Europe, they were deemed interesting but superfluous when reviewed in
(31:1 and 32:5). As that may be, and while acknowledging the frequently swift tempos and the uncertain utility of period Dvo?ák, I am glad to have heard these performances.
This recording of the Beethoven “Choral” Symphony returns to a more natural repertoire for such an ensemble, and Emmanuel Krivine and his musicians clearly have some winning ideas about this much-recorded work. Tempos are again swift, but not as fast as some—the often-favored Gardiner on Arkiv comes in at under an hour—and velocity, in any case, does not preclude expressive phrasing or dramatic power. Those who crave Furtwänglerian profundity need not apply, though Krivine and his collaborators obviously have no problem in bending a tempo for expressive purposes. The first movement is
, indeed, with forceful timpani and martial brass. The Scherzo bustles deliciously with a trio light as air. The finale, weighty in expression if lighter in sonority than used to be the norm, maintains intensity where others bog down. It is the Adagio molto et cantabile that will likely upset the traditionalist most with its emphasis on
, but while hardly pensive, there is nothing trivial about its treatment.
The string tone is warm and complex, but the winds are dominant, producing, at times, something of a
feel. The 32-member Les Éléments Chamber Chorus, much in demand throughout Europe these days, is fervent and responsive to the text. The youthful solo quartet is blessedly free of operatic affectation or the apparent need to compete with each other. Sinéad Mulhern is a particularly considerate colleague, floating the stratospheric parts beautifully to maintain balance. Carolin Masur maintains a warm contralto-like presence—no mean feat, as Beethoven works against her—and bass-baritone Konstantin Wolff, who inclines more toward the baritone, still handles the depths and drama of his part admirably. Only lyric tenor Dominik Wortig seems a bit light for the assignment, but he is suitably vigorous in the Turkish march, which is taken at a non-dogmatic tempo. One oddity: Wortig is not the tenor named in the online concert listings. If there was an after-concert session to record the choral/quartet section, it is not mentioned.
The recording was otherwise made live, with the various attendant uncertainties that still exist for such ventures, but there is only an odd imprecision here and there to show the recording was made on the fly. I suppose that recording in three different venues adds to the challenge, but besides what seems to be a perspective shift for the final movement—evidence of a retake?—it is hard to detect any changes. One could wish for a little more air in the recording, though the close miking does provide some extra detail to compensate for the slightly claustrophobic quality. One benefit: the bassoons are more audible than usual. This allows one to hear the usually ignored (or inaudible) second bassoon doubling of the double bases in the finale, and brings out the characterful contrabassoon at times.
Engineering need not, in any case, dissuade one from trying this excellent release. This is an exciting, frequently moving performance in—if I may say—the Toscanini mold. It is the antithesis of the bloodless HIP performance sometime complained of in these pages, and it avoids the equal sin of presenting a too refined Beethoven. It does not displace another favored HIP performance of recent vintage, the Vänskä on BIS, though I prefer it marginally to the Paavo Järvi on RCA. However, for those desiring period-instrument sonorities, this is the current first choice. A heads-up, though: You may like it so much that you will want to buy the complete symphony cycle when it is released at the end of this year.
FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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