Valentin Radu

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9; Die Ruinen von Athen

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At some point, many if not most listeners will begin to have their doubts about this live performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with the Ama Deus Ensemble lead by Valentin Radu. The doubts may come when the opening Allegro ma non troppo's tempo veers off the road in the development, when the Scherzo's ensemble shakes apart in the exposition repeat, when the Adagio molto's wind and string balances fray in sustained passages, or when the bass section of two refuses to play together or in tune in the Finale's recitative.

But whenever the doubts come, the listener's faith in the performance will waver and things will rapidly go downhill from there. After that, the listener will be unable to ignore the riotous brass in the climax of the Allegro's development, the watery flutes in the Scherzo, the scrappy violins in the Adagio, or the shaky chorus and wildly uneven soloists in the finale. Soon, even good moments like the driving choral-orchestral double fugue will be marred by the chorus' hooty sopranos and stolid basses.

Much of the responsibility for this must go to conductor Radu, who favors tempos quicker than his musicians can sustain without giving sufficient cues to keep them together. But the rest of the responsibility must go to the slightly larger-than-chamber-sized Ama Deus Ensemble, which is often unable to rise to the score's demands and too often unable to find Radu's downbeat.

Though the conductor and his forces are better suited to the incidental music from Beethoven's The Ruins of Athens from the same concert included on the second disc, this may not compensate for so substandard an account of the mighty and monumental Ninth. Lyrichord's live digital recording is clear, yet quite atmospheric.

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