BEETHOVEN: Integrale des Symphonies (1951-1954) , Vol. III = Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 – Magda Laszlo, soprano/Hilde Roessl-Majdan, contralto/Petre Munteanu, tenor/Richard Standen, bass/Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Hermann Scherchen – Tahra

by | Nov 9, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Integrale des Symphonies (1951-1954) , Vol. III = Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 – Magda Laszlo, soprano/Hilde Roessl-Majdan, contralto/Petre Munteanu, tenor/Richard Standen, bass/Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Hermann Scherchen

Tahra TAH 677, 72:18 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Hermann Scherchen (1891-1966) devoted considerable energies trying to respect Beethoven’s original metronome markings for his symphonies, which resulted in tempo problems for orchestral players ill equipped to realize the sometimes ferocious, driven results. In the case of the 1953 Ninth Symphony, however, we can well appreciate the colossal girth and feverish ambition of the realization, especially in the reconstituted sound from Tahra‘s engineer Charles Eddi. The interior clarity of Beethoven’s woodwind voice parts has rarely emerged with such feral, contrapuntal distinction, the flute against the string basses, the bassoons in harmony with the clarinets. The stretti alone appear vast, emergent from a distant horizon and then looming up, monoliths of harmonic density. We can easily note comparisons in Scherchen’s icily etched rhythms and sinews the influence on later “dissectors” of the score like Pierre Boulez.

The Scherzo (with repeats) surges up like lava from a vindictive volcano, disarming in its delicacy, but relentless. The VSOO violas project a slicing, nearly hysterical power. Yet Scherchen slows down for the bassoon entry and fluttering woodwinds, under which a titanic tympani and resonant string pizzicati build to a frenzied series of thunderbolts. The appearance of the first trio is no less engaging, the playful, dance figures set against a heartfelt chorale. Wonderful oboe work plays against lucid French horn and string choirs. The restrained lyrical noblesse of the performance balances the rhythmic insistence, a mystical collision of happily contrary tendencies.


For the magnificent Adagio molto e cantabile Scherchen projects the deliberate aura he brings to Bach’s Art of Fugue and any of the Mahler adagios. Once again, we become thralls to the mystique of German Romanticism, the same impulses towards transcendence we savor in Abendroth, Knappertsbusch, and the high priest Furtwaengler. Every phrase of the double-theme and variations rises from the conductor’s own palms, as though we had before us a musical incarnation of Rodin’s The Hand of God. When the pulse slows down in the woodwinds, especially in the low harmonies, time as we know it transforms into a purely durative experience. French horn and flute add a strong color dimension to the sensuous sway of the strings, an upward progress to the stars.

Scherchen thrusts the hectic energy of the fourth movement at us directly, the resonant basses carrying the virile recitative. Beethoven does not grope but strides in search of his theme, by-passing the temptations of his former solutions to the mysteries of creation. The theme finds itself caressed and swaddled like a precious infant and led into the basses’ somber utterance. The Allegro assai builds an inevitable panoply of layers, a liberating ocean wave from deep into the abyss. Richard Standen’s sympathetic baritone pleads for rather than asserts our common humanity. The vocal quartet takes these aspirations to another level of emotional energy, exploding in pity and hope. The janissary episode rises, too, from a deeply troubled realm, a scherzo with a cautionary tale whose fugue attests to the moral struggle ahead. Scherchen gives an astonishing weight to the slow movement that begins with “Seid umschlungen,” a kind of Tuba mirum from the Requiem Mass that reaches an exalted spiritual repose. The strain at the fugal “der ganzen Welt” becomes a shriek for social justice, haunted, agonized. The ferocious burst of janissary energy that takes us to the coda seems another variation of the Prometheus Unbound motif, a marriage of conflicted but noble elements, a spectacular rush to judgment.

–Gary Lemco

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