Classical Reissue Reviews

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 “Choral” – Dame Joan Sutherland, sop./ Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano/ James King, tenor/ Martti Talvela, bass/Vienna Philharmonic Orch./ Vienna State Opera Chorus/ Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt – HDTT

Transferred from a London 4-track commercial tape, the HDTT remastering of the 1965 Beethoven Ninth from Vienna evinces heroic power in every movement.

Published on September 24, 2012

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 “Choral” – Dame Joan Sutherland, sop./ Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano/ James King, tenor/ Martti Talvela, bass/Vienna Philharmonic Orch./ Vienna State Opera Chorus/ Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt – HDTT

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 “Choral” – Dame Joan Sutherland, sop./ Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano/ James King, tenor/ Martti Talvela, bass/Vienna Philharmonic Orch./ Vienna State Opera Chorus/ Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt – HDTT HDCD263, 67:45 [avail. in various formats from www.highdeftapetransfers.com] ****:

Recorded for London Decca 8-12 December 1965 at the Sofiensaal, Vienna, this potent reading of the Ninth Symphony has Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt (1900-1973) at the helm of the Vienna Philharmonic as well as a stellar vocal ensemble. The opening movement, Allegro ma non troppo; un poco maestoso, proceeds with virile fury, the emphasis on the chromatic counterpoint and interior rhythmic thrust of the music’s heroic energy. Schmidt-Isserstedt’s penchant for textural clarity will assert itself beautifully in the fugue pursuant to James King’s tenor scherzo in the last movement. The miking of the flutes and tympani proves particularly incisive, and the VPO horn work achieves the effect of a Roman pageant over voluptuously tremolando strings. The more serene episodes bring a resonant clarity, even as the mass of bass sounds gathers ferocious momentum in the manner of some subterranean upheaval.

Schmidt-Isserstedt could be said to have extended the German literalist tradition in orchestral conducting, a Teutonic version of Toscanini in some respects, and the driven conviction of his first movement spills directly into the ensuing Scherzo: Molto vivace.

Schmidt-Isserstedt exacts an extremely animated pulsation in this movement, a nervous attention to the bassoon, flute, oboe, and tympani that accents the movement’s tenuous relationship between triple and quadruple meters. The tonal accuracy of the VPO choirs impresses with the brilliance of the shifting registers of sound, the brisk D Major trio section luxuriant in the woodwinds and brass. The spaciousness of the third movement Molto e cantabile; Andante moderato testifies to a decided mysticism in Schmidt-Issersedt’s character, his breathing large life into the two themes in B-flat and G Major, each of which evolves a series of variants on its own. The liquid flow of the strings and French horn quite mesmerizes, since the interplay grants us a vision of the transcendent without having in any sense become maudlin.

Excellent response in the VPO cellos and basses for the opening salvo into the Allegro assai of the last movement, trumpets and winds in glowing Technicolor. Schmidt-Isserstedt does not dawdle over the previous movements’ themes, though the Adagio has its temptations.  The yearning recitative finds the famous motto for the choral development, and the crescendi can begin. Schmidt-Isserstedt’s expansive approach tenderly indulges the interior lines until the late Finnish juggernaut, Martti Talvela (1935-1989) intones his plea for a more “human” music. Ardent, clear diction ensues in both the chorus and the vocal quartet, Schiller’s words and Beethoven’s adjustments beseeching a sea-change in men’s hearts. Dame Joan Sutherland (1926-2010) soars above the rich brew, the variants of the melody increasingly gaining in texture and awe. Bassoon, tympani, flute, and James King (1925-2005) move with fleet figures into the janissary “scherzo,”  a beguiling swagger in each measure. Aptly, the “Seid umschlungen” slow movement conveys the requisite Herculean mysterium, a kind of large tuba mirum motet for voices. The upward motion of the fugato assumes the exalted fervor we know from the Jascha Horenstein rendition, a plea for the most exquisite humanism. As if waiting in abeyance, Marilyn Horne (b. 1934) exerts her broad throaty mezzo into the assertion that all men are brothers, the “magic” of this optimistic alchemy “reduced” the interplay of the vocal quartet, a cappella. The extended janissary coda proves a rush to judgment, a dervish dance of colors, the resurrection and the life.

[Sounds like hi-res Ninth fans would benefit from downloading a 96K/24-bit version of this recording from HDTT for their hard drive or DVD-R...Ed.]

—Gary Lemco




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