London Philharmonic Orchestra / Ann Murray / Lucia Popp / Klaus Tennstedt

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9

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As one of Klaus Tennstedt's final appearances with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, this live 1992 performance of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor, "Choral," may be considered a fitting valedictory, for it is admirable in its directness and commitment, and in its vitality it scarcely seems like the work of an ailing man. Yet despite the serious illnesses that had taken a toll on the already emotionally and mentally overwhelmed conductor, Tennstedt still brought the orchestra, singers, and chorus together in a convincing presentation that hits all the right marks and delivers both technical brilliance and expressive power. There are a few unusual features here, such as the swelling waves of timpani rolls at the climax of the first movement, and the surprising attacca at the beginning of the Finale, but by and large, this is a conventional reading of the score, and there's nothing especially novel or controversial in the interpretation. The quartet of soprano Lucia Popp, mezzo-soprano Ann Murray, tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson, and bass René Pape is strikingly cohesive, and the LPO Choir is quite ecstatic in the Ode to Joy. One might wish that the recording had been given more physical presence and timbral clarity by closer microphone placement, for it takes a moderate volume level to make everything audible, and the orchestral sound seems almost muted unless boosted to a high level. Still, with the volume being the only problem worth mentioning, this is a remarkably moving and enjoyable recording that deserves several hearings and a respected place in any Beethoven collection.

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