Notes and Editorial Reviews
In every way this first-rate performance scores over Abbado's live, nine-year-old recording of the Ninth for DG. The overall sonority is now leaner, the recording itself more musical in its freedom from hi-fi brightness, and—of greatest importance—the direction is far more stylish. Indeed play both versions for the unknowing and I doubt if it would be believed that the same conductor is involved. In the new effort, produced at the 1996 Salzburg Easter Festival, the first movement is more bracing in its greater thrust, clarity, and bite, the second marginally more urgent, though still not so fast as some, but animated by exceptionally well-focused detail. Similarly, the great slow movement no longer stagnates as it did in Abbado's earlier account, this one offering a wonderfully fluid reading redolent of Weingartner. And the Finale (with strikingly realistic double basses) is all of a piece, the D-Major eruption of the main theme with full orchestra having a powerful majesty that is thoroughly apt but often wanting.
The soloists are generally good or even better, but Bryn Terfel's rolled /?s in the opening recitative of the Finale may prove irritating. But this does not detract from the merit of Abbado's conception. In the accompanying annotations, by the way, he points out that this is the first recording to draw upon the critical edition of Jonathan del Mar. Those who know the score well may notice a few textural differences, none of major significance. The main issue here is that this performance, like the recent Maag account, can take its place beside the finest available editions, notably Karajan (1963 or 1977), Bernstein (DG 1979), Wand, Sawallisch, and Kletzki. Abbado observes both repeats in the second movement and follows Beethoven's Urtext, avoiding the orchestral reinforcements favored by many other conductors.
-- Mortimer H. Frank, FANFARE [1/1997]