Myung-Whun Chung / Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9

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For this 2013 Deutsche Grammophon release, Myung-Whun Chung and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra present Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor, "Choral," in a mainstream performance that traditionalists will heartily endorse. This is somewhat surprising, considering the music world's increasing adoption of authentic Classical and early Romantic practices in Beethoven performances, and even the most conservative conductors and orchestras have made concessions to period research. Yet Chung's version is almost indistinguishable from mid-20th century renditions, because the orchestra is full-sized, the instrumentation is modern, the tempos are generally moderate, and the textures are homogenized and well-blended, all of which make the symphony sound weighty and a bit too reverent. (The tenor solo in the Finale, "Froh! wie seine Sonnen fliegen," is taken at a faster clip, but that's the only nod to the authenticist camp.) One may think of Karajan and Böhm when hearing this recording, and even Furtwängler and Walter, so tied is it to the past century, and fans of that older style of interpretation may feel that Chung's adds little to it. However, consider that this is part of the Seoul Philharmonic's projected series of recordings for Deutsche Grammophon, which so far has yielded Mahler's First, Tchaikovsky's "Pathétique," and Beethoven's "Emperor" Piano Concerto. If the label's contract with the orchestra calls for warhorses of the concert hall, it's unsurprising that a conventional performance of the Ninth would be required, and that it has been delivered here, for better or worse.

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