BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, OP. 125 “Choral” – Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano/ Elisabeth Hoengen, mezzo-soprano/ Julius Patzak, tenor/ Hans Hotter, bass/ Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Vienna Singverein/ Herbert von Karajan – EMI Classics

by | Nov 22, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, OP. 125 “Choral” –
Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano/ Elisabeth Hoengen, mezzo-soprano/
Julius Patzak, tenor/ Hans Hotter, bass/ Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
and Vienna Singverein/ Herbert von Karajan

EMI Classics 7243 4 76878 2, mono  67:00 ****:

Recorded between November and December 1947, the Beethoven Ninth
Symphony under Herbert von Karajan (1909-1989) is an integral part of
The Karajan Collection reissued by EMI. The studio recording, made with
the Vienna Philharmonic, is Karajan’s only such effort with the
orchestra, and he made it under much the same conditions that Felix
Weingartner had endured twelve years prior, using the short-take system
of five-minute sides for 78 rpm shellacs.  The relative quickness
of the Scherzo, sans repeats, may be attributed to the nature of the
recording process, although the French horn does a fine job in the
articulation of his riffs. For the chorus, Karajan had the
participation and careful diction of the Choral Society of the
Association of Friends of Music, an organization with whom Karajan
maintained solid relations throughout his career. His soloists came
both from the Berlin Hochschule and the Munich Opera, with Hans Hotter
already having proven himself a powerful Wagnerian. Julius Patzak
(1898-1974) was a Vienna-born artist who had established himself at the
Vienna State Opera in 1945, and he later was Bruno Walter’s choice for
his classic rendition of the Mahler’s The Song of the Earth. Elizabeth
Schwarzkopf was on the verge of an international repute in 1947, and
she came to the attention of Wilhelm Furtwaengler as well; and
Elisabeth Hoengen, a former violinist-turned-mezzo, later became Jascha
Horenstein’s choice on his own version of the Ninth for Vox records.

Until 1947, Karajan had not done much work with Beethoven’s Ninth
Symphony, having added to his repertory in 1938. Commentators like Jim
Svejda have linked Karajan’s despicable politics to the
rather cool, objective approach in the performance, a penchant for
architecture and detail over the humanity in the score. There is a
fastidious element, a deliberation of means, which cannot be denied.
Perhaps Karajan meant to prove himself the craftsman above all things
to this ensemble and to producer Walter Legge. One cannot call
Karajan’s approach perfunctory, but it is streamlined and hasty, a
virtuoso’s reading. The careful molding of the musical lines in the
Andante moderato section, the symmetries with strings and flute, is
elegant to the point of refining away the cosmic drama of the music.
Not that Karajan fails to elicit visceral excitement from the
proceedings, with a last movement which begins furioso and moves like a
machine gun into Hotter’s intoning for a more human music. A bit of
surface swish as the tape splice takes us into Patzak’s responsory with
the chorus. The vocal quartet, accompanied by flute and tympani, floats
in its own world. The janissary scherzo section is pure Mozart, from
the Seraglio. The Andante maestoso captures some genuine spirituality
in rounded, glowing sonics. Vocal virtuosity and Mannheim rockets take
us through the Allegro energico section to the last dry recitativo
ensemble by the vocal quartet, Schwarzkopf’s and Hotter’s voices moving
in oppsosite directions most effectively. A whirlwind rush to judgment,
and we have witnessed the dynamics of a conductor whose time had
arrived with a vengeance.

–Gary Lemco

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