BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 • Michael Tilson Thomas, cond; Erin Wall (sop); Kendall Gladen (mez); William Burden (ten); Nathan Berg (bs); San Francisco S Ch; San Francisco S • SFS Media 0055 821936-0055-2 (SACD: 70:44 Text and Translation) Live: San Francisco 6/27-30/2012
It’s the hoariest of reviewing clichés and probably an overstatement, but here goes: This performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, derived from concerts in June of 2012, lets one hear the work as if for theRead more first time. Not because of the use of gut strings, or tuning the orchestra to A=422, or insisting on strict adherence to the composer’s metronome markings. Rather, thanks to matters of execution and interpretation, a listener gets access to the full spiritual dimension of a towering masterpiece as, perhaps, never before in that listener’s experience. As a small but telling example, consider the rendering of the dotted figures that occur throughout the symphony. The placement of the second, shorter note within the beat and the emphasis given to that note must be judged precisely and unanimously by all, with just the right amount of “snap.” As performed by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco players, the figure isn’t lazy and it isn’t severe—it’s active, purposeful, propulsive. There is rhythmic backbone without brusqueness—and lyrical poignancy without late 19th-century angst. The scale and tone is perfect. This is Beethoven that energizes but doesn’t exhaust.
Many other felicities pull one into the performance: knowingly modulated crescendos in the second movement, a gorgeous interplay of violin and wind lines in the third, and MTT’s deft negotiation of the finale’s moment-to-moment shifts in mood, before the vocal entrance. The military march is rousing, the conductor clearly savoring its good spirits. Nathan Berg’s “O Freunde” is exuberant and the four vocal soloists actually sound as if they are listening to one another. The chorus has been superbly prepared. Tilson Thomas makes time stand still at 18 minutes into the last movement so that the closing seven are maximally cathartic.
As usual, the SFS Media SACD production is state-of-the-art. Producer Jack Vad provides a fairly close up sonic perspective that assures zero audience noise until the ovation at the end. But there is still a pleasing openness and spaciousness. Woodwind sonorities are beautifully characterized and timpani thwacks have excellent impact, as at the outset of the Molto vivace. There’s good detail—one can make out the trombones in the trio section of the second movement, not always easy to do—as well as a satisfying orchestral weight. Solo voices are realistically sized and choral/orchestral balances are ideal. There’s a sense of dynamic headroom to spare with the most roof-raising passages. The engineers have done their job to let an extraordinary performance make it intact from Davies Hall to your listening room, car, or headphones. Don’t hesitate on this one.
"10/10"April 19, 2013By A. Mouser (Issaquah, WA)See All My Reviews"I first want to note that I am not a professional reviewer of musical works by any stretch of the imagination. I have a well designed, matched and balanced listening room, with reference equipment, however; I would still consider myself an amateur with much to learn. I have many recordings of the 9th. This particular performance is very impressive! It is difficult to capture the full essence of a live performance, but I think the work of MTT comes very very close to the real thing. Personally, I think it is sonically perfect in SACD multichannel. The pace of the performance seems a tad drawn out more than most recordings, but to my ears it is perfect! MMT's 5th was very good, but the 9th is even better!"Report Abuse