Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 9
Klaus Tennstedt, cond; Lucia Popp (sop); Ann Murray (alt); Anthony Rolfe Johnson (ten); René Pape (bs); London PO & Ch
26 (71:58) Live: London 10/8/1992
Great art is almost always ambiguous, not in the pejorative sense of being unclear, but in the far more important one of carrying multiple meanings that enable a wide latitude in interpretation. With its uncommonly broad tempos in the first three movements, this performance offers an approach that many may not favor, unless, of course, they consider Furtwängler’s conception
ideal. To be sure (as readers of
are probably aware), I don’t see it so, at least not as an ideal to be emulated. That said, this release, in its Furtwänglerian style, comprises one of the most arresting accounts of the music to come my way. For one thing, its engineering is extraordinary, even by the standards of 1992: exceptionally accurate in timbre and wide in dynamic range, it also boasts a richness of detail that is rarely encountered in a recording (live or studio). The first movement is quite literally terrifying in its eruptive brashness and aptly spooky in its harmonic vagueness. The second movement (omitting both repeats and Weingartner’s often-favored emendations) is at once demonic and (in its trio) ethereal. Among the many, many Ninths I’ve heard, only Solti’s third movement, at 20 minutes, outdoes the breadth of this one, which is slightly slower than Furtwängler’s. Yet Tennstedt’s pace proves riveting, a gentle delicacy often complementing the favored expansiveness. The finale is less extreme, most notably toward the conclusion of its coda, where Tennstedt avoids the hysterical hash that stamps Furtwängler’s work. And the soloists are fine, although Pape falls into the trap of making Schiller’s “Freunde” in the opening recitative sound like “Fleunde.” Throughout the entire performance one encounters a textural focus, often blurred in other versions, that contributes to the overall impact of this reading, creating a kind of arresting incisiveness that has nothing to do with sheer haste. For those who prefer the fleeter accounts of Toscanini, Szell, or Karajan, this one may well prove—in every sense of the term—a welcome change of pace.
FANFARE: Mortimer H. Frank