BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 “Choral” – Elsie Suddaby, soprano/Nellie Walker, contralto/Walter Widdop, tenor/ Stuart Robinson, bass/(London) Symphony Orchestra/Albert Coates – Historic-Recordings

by | Aug 6, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 “Choral” – Elsie Suddaby, soprano/Nellie Walker, contralto/Walter Widdop, tenor/ Stuart Robinson, bass/(London) Symphony Orchestra/Albert Coates

Historic-Recordings HRCD 00047, 62:35 [www.historic-recordings.co.uk] ****:


Among British conductors, few conveyed brute might and intellectual energy so clearly as Albert Coates (1882-1953), perhaps Beecham’s greatest contemporary–and rival–in the world of symphonic and operatic repertory. Born into an English-Russian heritage, Coates exhibited a penchant for Russian music, naturally enough, but no small leaning towards Wagner, whose music he realized with a fervent authority hardly matched by other conductors on record or in the concert hall. His Beethoven Ninth (14-19 October 1926) carries that same penchant for boundless potency, a physical dynamic and volcanic surfeit of which Coates was well aware: once, in a temper, he flared out, “I could really get destructive if I were a more diminutive Italian conductor we all know!”

Transferred from the 1926 shellacs by Bill Anderson, this Ninth moves with a peerless grace that sings well beyond the years that intervene between its creation and us. Despite the limits of electrical recording of the period, the interpretation vibrates with restless searching power, and the second movement–a paean to the rhythmic impulse in and for itself–seems barely contained by the sound process that captured it. We detect only a slight tendency to Romantic exaggeration in the string portamenti of the third movement; otherwise, an epic meditation unfolds in firm colors, always attuned to the harmonic bases of Beethoven’s transitions. The forward propulsion of the tempo notwithstanding, we can savor individual touches among woodwinds, strings, and horns as the double-theme and variations ascends in majestic figures in Coates’s equivalent of Gothic arches.

Excellent orchestral definition for the opening of the last movement, the double basses and woodwinds in high gloss, the musculature of the phrasing vividly impelled forward, only a step from the surge of Smetana‘s Moldau.

For this final movement vocal quartet–singing in English–Coates has the stellar talents both Elsie Suddaby (1893-1980) and Walter Widdop (1892-1949), who would help premier Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music in 1938. It charms us to hear “Freude” rendered “Gladness” by Stuart Robinson to retain the syllabication of the music, but the cumulative effect captures the Beethoven/Schiller conceit of world brotherhood. Widdop communicates a joyful pomp in his janissary scherzo, the chorus brightly respondent and the ensuing fugato a hectic bundle of energetic sparks to light our way out of spiritual darkness. The slow movement conveys to us what Coates might have accomplished had he inscribed the Missa Solemnis, given the high vaulted arches of his phrases. The vocal quartet rushes into the last sequence with “Gladness, Daughter of Elysium,” and the upward rockets and swooping strings of the orchestra–whom we must assume as the unaccredited LSO–casts a warm swaddling cloth around the singers as they soar and dip simultaneously to exhort men to moral action. The coda bears fire and thunder, a Promethean gesture in the cause of an all-embracing Humanism.

— Gary Lemco

Related Reviews
Logo Pure Pleasure
Logo Apollo's Fire
Logo Crystal Records Sidebar 300 ms
Logo Jazz Detective Deep Digs Animated 01