Philippe Herreweghe / Royal Flemish Philharmonic

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 "Choral" [2009 Recording]

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Philippe Herreweghe is widely respected as one of the most skilled of choral conductors and a leading scholar and practitioner in the field of historically informed performances, but his 2010 release on PentaTone of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor, "Choral," gives little indication of his strengths. The interpretation given here is fairly mainstream and predictable, aside from the crisp rhythms and dry sonorities that have become de rigueur in Classical period re-creations. Herreweghe really has little of novelty to offer, except for using the double-quick tempo for the tenor solo in the Finale, which John Eliot Gardiner introduced in 1992 in his recording with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. Even in the area of instrumentation, the only sign of authentic period practice is the use of hard mallets on the timpani. The strings, woodwinds, and brass are all modern sounding, and the size of the Royal Flemish Philharmonic seems quite as large as any conventional orchestra. So there is little to distinguish this performance from many other contemporary renditions, and anyone expecting a startling transformation of this symphony will be disappointed. Perhaps the only reason to invest in this package is for the highly detailed and spacious sound of the recording, which meets PentaTone's extraordinarily high standards in every way. The multichannel hybrid SACD offers vivid reproduction that has credible presence and depth, so this really is a great-sounding Ninth, if not necessarily a great performance.

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