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Beethoven: Symphony No 9 / Douglas Boyd, Manchester Camerata

Release Date: 11/08/2011 
Label:  Avie   Catalog #: 2245   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Rebecca von LipinskiAnna GreveliusPeter WeddRoderick Williams
Conductor:  Douglas Boyd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Manchester Camerata
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9, “ Choral” Douglas Boyd, cond; Rebecca von Lipinski (sop); Anna Grevelius (mez); Peter Wedd (ten); Roderick Williams (bs); City of Birmingham S Ch; Manchester Camerata AVIE AV 2245 (64:58 Text and Translation) Live: Manchester 1/2011

With this release, Douglas Boyd and his Mancunian associates complete their traversal of the Beethoven symphonies. I reviewed three of the earlier volumes (Raymond Tuttle covered the other), and Read more on the whole I had positive things to say. There are surprisingly few cycles of the Beethoven symphonies for chamber orchestra with modern instruments, so Boyd has the field almost to himself. His primary competition comes from Paavo Järvi on RCA, a cycle in which I have found many felicities. Järvi’s Ninth was my principal basis for comparison: Both conductors eschew doubling of winds (though Boyd adds a fifth horn), observe repeats, and front orchestras that are approximately the same size (fewer than 60 players).

Boyd’s first movement balances precision with power; he generates plenty of tension as the movement builds, and his major-mode theme is invested with lilt and longing. Järvi’s is an edgier, more aggressive effort and is a minute shorter. Boyd’s Scherzo is spirited if not quite as bumptious as Järvi’s; the Trio is fluid and ingratiating. The timpani are somewhat overly prominent in the Manchester recording. Boyd’s Adagio is warm and doesn’t linger; this pace (in a timing almost identical to Järvi) provides contrast with the energy of the first two movements without lapsing into lassitude. Järvi is a little freer with his tempo, relaxing a bit, then moving forward, and allowing for a more elastic line. There is a delicacy to Järvi’s version that provides an even greater contrast to what has gone before, and is the essence of cantabile.

The cataclysmic opening of the finale is contained and carefully articulated, perhaps too much so. The narrative cantilena in the basses and cellos is clipped and declamatory (much like Järvi’s), and the “Freude” theme is almost too understated; Nikolaus Harnoncourt on Teldec with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe is more eloquent. The soloists are a mixed bag. Best is Roderick Williams, who sounds here more like a bass-baritone, lyrical and expressive; the soprano of Rebecca von Lipinski is too strident, and Peter Wedd’s Heldentenor is impressive but his enunciation of the German is often unintelligible. The glory of this finale, though, is the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Chorus: Britain’s premier amateur choir adds weight and volume to the choral sections that helps to allay concerns that a chamber-based performance can’t compete with those of a full-sized ensemble. Boyd’s pacing of the Turkish March is appropriately sprightly, while that of “Seid umschlungen, Millionen!” is stately and majestic; the final Presto provides a spirited romp that still allows the chorus breathing room.

The sound throughout the performance is excellent, focused yet filling the soundstage admirably in a resonant acoustic while providing ample detail. Harnoncourt’s 20-year-old recording, as good as it is, can’t match this new Avie. If forced to choose between this CD and Järvi’s RCA disc, the latter would edge the former, mostly due to the expansive yet crisp SACD multichannel sound provided for Järvi and his forces. Boyd’s performance, though, is an excellent complement to full-size versions like Claudio Abbado’s on DG, and to Emmanuel Krivine’s extraordinary period-instrument recording on Naïve, and I happily recommend it.

FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Rebecca von Lipinski (Soprano), Anna Grevelius (Mezzo Soprano), Peter Wedd (Tenor),
Roderick Williams (Baritone)
Conductor:  Douglas Boyd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Manchester Camerata
Period: Classical 
Written: 1822-1824; Vienna, Austria 

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