Christoph von Dohnányi

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9

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On a spectrum between the reverent performances of the traditionalists and the startling revisions of the historicists, this recording of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 seems to stand in an agreeable middle area. Christoph von Dohnányi's rendition with the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus is coherently shaped and clearly focused on details, faithful to the score, and classically transparent in its sound. Yet Dohnányi brings out the work's intense feeling without wearing his heart on his sleeve and lets expression flow naturally from what Beethoven wrote without a trace of transcendental exaggeration. The opening movement is crisp and efficiently paced, and the dramatic argument is forceful without striving for gravitas. The Scherzo, likewise, is effective on its own mercurial terms, without added violence or storminess. Dohnányi moves the Adagio molto e cantabile along without slipping into an Andante, and Beethoven's counterpoint is evenly sustained at this unhurried tempo. The choral Finale might strike some listeners as insufficiently grandiose, but it follows the rigorous approach established in the first three movements and is splendid without any extraneous effort. Dohnányi holds a firm grip on the movement's shape and momentum and prevents it from swerving into the two extremes of over-excitement and bombast.

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