Roger Norrington

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9

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Roger Norrington's 1987 recording of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with the London Classical Players was a joke -- a deliberate joke -- but still a joke. It was, in Norrington's immortal words, the Ninth "with the farts put back in." But while Norrington's 1987 Ninth was a joke, it wasn't funny. After all, how funny is a Ninth that takes the cosmic tragedy of the opening movement as a race to the double bars, the enormous energy of the Scherzo as a windup toy, the profound beauty of the Adagio as a jog-trot, and the heaven-spanning glory of the closing Ode to Joy as a joke "with the farts put back in?" As it turns out, Norrington's 1987 Ninth was a laugh riot compared to his 2002 Ninth with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. What little merit the 1987 Ninth had, it had because it dared to turn the greatest symphony ever written into a joke. And Norrington's 2002 Ninth lacks even that merit. It is merely fast, clean and direct, and utterly superficial. The opening movement is still a race, the Scherzo is still a sprint, the Adagio is still a-lyrical, a-beautiful, and a-meaningful. The Ode to Joy is light and lively and you could probably dance to parts of it, but you could probably not exalt to it. And, yes, Norrington does keep the farts in: the opening of the Turkish march in the Finale still starts like a scene from Blazing Saddles. But unlike Mel Brooks' movie, Norrington's Ninth isn't funny. Hanssler's live sound tries to make a small orchestra and chorus sound like a big orchestra and chorus by putting the microphones too close to the instruments. It doesn't work.

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