Masaaki Suzuki / Bach Collegium Japan

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9

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With his decades-long immersion in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and his prodigious catalog of Bach recordings for BIS, Masaaki Suzuki might seem an unlikely interpreter of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor, "Choral." Yet Suzuki previously proved his expertise in Beethoven with his superb 2018 recording of the Missa Solemnis and garnered praise for its clarity of textures, brisk tempos, and meticulous orchestral playing. True to form, Suzuki delivers Beethoven's final symphony with expected precision and transparency and brings the work's cosmic grandeur into more human focus with the lean early-Romantic orchestra and the comparatively small but agile chorus of Bach Collegium Japan. Considering the majority of performances of the Ninth that employ a full-scale modern orchestra and a massive aggregation of singers, Suzuki's reduced forces still produce a robust sound that at the same time is crisply accented, detailed, and free of the heavy doublings and reorchestrations that pass for tradition in many performances. Joined in the Finale by soprano Ann-Helen Moen, alto Marianne Beate Kielland, tenor Allan Clayton, and bass Neal Davies, the ensemble turns in an awe-inspiring "Ode to Joy" that benefits from clear diction and nearly perfect balance with the orchestra, particularly in the way the woodwinds and brass weave in and out of the solo and choral textures, giving the movement continuity within the whole symphonic structure. Traditionalists may still balk, but anyone open to hearing a powerful historically-informed performance couldn't ask for a better one.

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