Recorded July 2021 in the Festspielhaus, Baden-Baden, this is the “first recorded cycle to follow the New Beethoven Complete Edition text of Symphony No. 9, including, for example, an only recently rediscovered contrabassoon part.” (Shouldn’t that be ‘discovered’?) The recorded sound is immediate and lucid if rather trebly when set against a reticent bass line (four players are pictured, taken while performing the ‘Choral’ Symphony). Woodwinds are liberated, horns and trumpets can be over-dominant, brazen even, whereas timpani detail is faultless in clarity at all volumes and figurations.
The first movement of the Fifth Symphony is fast and fierce, the second shapely while observing the con moto marking, and the Finale is a mite grander than expected. Ends in C-major: cue Symphony 1, a delight from start to finish. Symphony 2 is a mix of going forward and savouring details, strong accents, with a spacious and elegant ten-minute slow movement, but the Finale is, as so often, too fast (Celibidache, in Munich, isn’t, and he shows there is more of a profile to this music than speed), although the COE plays with brilliant precision. The ‘Eroica’ has a rather uneventful first movement, with greater gravitas in the ‘Funeral March’, superb horns in the Scherzo’s Trio, but the Symphony’s end is a little contained; decades later, Szell and his Clevelanders remain the yardstick. F-major: the ‘Pastoral is excellent, joyous/unrushed in the first movement, with much to savour later; and the punchy account of No.8 is very likeable, but a shame about the rit at the end of the first movement, humour dissipated, nothing need be done here to draw a smile as, say, Gielen, Monteux (Vienna) and Ormandy have demonstrated. Symphony 4 includes long grace-notes (usually short) in the first-movement development but, alas, the usual slowing before the recapitulation – I recall that David Zinman (Zurich) is refreshingly direct at this point, and YN-S makes no concession to bassoon and clarinet in the rapid Finale, but he knows the players won’t be fazed. The Seventh Symphony is a get-up-and-go performance if with an unusual way with the transition into the first-movement Vivace, an attacca into the next movement (quite a few conductors do this), a solemn Allegretto from N-S, persuasive in character, and a very Presto Scherzo, although the Trio dawdles a bit (Toscanini supreme here). The ‘Choral’? Cleanly sounded, and therefore the first movement lacks opening mystery, and well-judged in many ways, but it’s not a chamber-orchestra and small choir piece, however top-class the renditions and some of the ‘new’ details and articulations. Concert Klemperer on Testament, and Solti’s first Chicago version (Decca), are superb short-listers.
Footnotes: more strings needed, certainly in the bass department, and violins are antiphonal. A lack of vibrato at times is disconcerting. In the Minuets (proto Scherzos) of the first two Symphonies, come the da capos we go twice-through again. There’s a wide dynamic range, and every repeat is observed except for the uncertain one in the Fifth’s Scherzo. Deutsche Grammophon 486 3050 (5 CDs).
Confession time: I’m not sure about the contrabassoon addition; the instrument is always where it should be, but I’d wager – in the ‘Choral’ Finale, – during track six, that it now underpins the lower-string pizzicatos (0:56-1:20).
Symphony 9: Siobhan Stagg, Ekaterina Gubanova, Werner Güra, Florian Boesch, and Accentus.