BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, “Choral”; Leonore Overture No. 3 in C – Edith Oldrup, soprano/Else Brems, mezzo-soprano/Thyge Thygesen, tenor/Holger Byrding, bass/Danish Radio Choir/ Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Nicolai Malko – Danacord

by | May 20, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 “Choral”; Leonore Overture No. 3 in C, Op. 72a – Edith Oldrup, soprano/Else Brems, mezzo-soprano/Thyge Thygesen, tenor/Holger Byrding, bass/Danish Radio Choir/ Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Nicolai Malko

Danacord DACOCD 683, 77:40 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

The concert of 30 January 1955 in Copenhagen–the 25th Jubilee Concert–under Nicolai Malko (1883-1961) had been reissued by Danacord, originally to coincide with the 2009 International Nicolai Malko Competition (11-16 May).  Now the document exists in its own right as a powerful example of the kind of discipline Malko achieved in league with colleague Fritz Busch in molding the Danish Radio Symphony into a potent and musically exciting ensemble of the first rank.

The performance of the Leonore Overture is simply sensational, with Malko’s exploiting the fierce energy of the piece while preserving its broad outlines of the opera Fidelio’s emotional spectra as they evolve in sonata-form.  Even after any number of virtuosic, explosive moments, the coda becomes a veritable whirlwind of passion, uncompromising in intensity and the fury of newborn freedom. Whether the strings, horns, or tympani ultimately triumph in this rendition is anybody’s guess, but the cumulative effect proves shattering.

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony remained a Malko specialty, and this in spite of the populist association of Malko strictly with Russian music, like the symphonies of Miaskovsky, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich. The German and Viennese classics held a special place in Malko’s large repertory, and collectors would be eager to see EMI or RCA reissue his few Haydn symphonies committed to posterity. The first movement proceeds soberly, optimistically, even in the face of its often dire harmonic tensions.  The Danish Radio woodwinds project an alert, sensitive series of responses to the low strings’ urgent search for a stable tonality, along with the counter-theme’s plaint for consolation. The contrapuntal effects remain startlingly clear, the rhythms taut and inflamed. The fleet Scherzo, again, proves eminently controlled and sober, thrilling yet constrained within fixed rhythmic boundaries enhanced by sensitive balances in orchestral timbre. The spirit of passionate altruism and homage to the humanistic impulse in Man permeates every measure. Attacca to the Adagio molto, expansive, noble, arched in a kind of romantic melancholy. The double theme and variations proceeds with noble ardor, the Danish players obviously inspired by the solemnity of the occasion.

The choral participants each belonged to the Royal Danish Opera; among them, Edith Oldrup (1912-1999) who had married Wagnerian singer Sigurd Bjoerling. The clarity of musical line as the main theme extends demonstrates Malko’s ultimate gift of revealing the music without personality intrusion. Holger Byrding (1891-1980) intones Schiller’s hymn with plaintive energy, and the Danish Chorus responds with clarion diction. The vocal quartet enters in full vocal glory, the soprano and bass in strong registers at both extremes of the scale. The second movement has tenor Thyge Thygesen (1904-1972) somewhat straining to maintain the tessitura of the scherzo, but the janissary harmony exerts itself in brilliant quick counterpoint. The “Seid umschlungen” section ushers in the slow movement, here under Malko a cathedral of sound. The devotional atmosphere becomes so resonantly palpable that the valediction forbids mourning, a sensibility we who know the Jascha Horenstein performance on Vox well recall. Briskly the vocal quartet celebrates the magic of Brotherly Love as the gift of a favorable Heaven. The a cappella quartet combines ecstasy and anguish most memorably. The rush to judgment, janissary and frenzied, calls upon every ounce of the participants’ collective energies, and the result is a coda of unbridled triumph in the hope for a better future.

— Gary Lemco

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