Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 op. 125; Erin Wall, soprano, Kendall Gladen, mezzo-soprano, William Burden, tenor, Nathan Berg, bass, San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Michael Tilson Thomas; SFS Media SFS0055; Live 6/12 (70'41) – Reviewed by Remy Franck

From the very beginning one is struck by this recording’s beautifully balanced, intense and vividly dense sound. With plain strings, nicely shaped winds and dramatically interacting timpani the surround sound immerses the listener totally in a performance led by what I’d like to call ‘spirit of simplicity’. Tilson Thomas’ tempi are moderate, but never too slow, never too fast. He proves that moderation in  tempo can have a greater effect of moving than a fast tempo driven without the steady propulsive rhythm that is so characteristic to MTT’s conducting. At the same time, and without being nervous or over tensed, the dynamic concept gives the music quite a dramatic character. From the first bar we have the impression that the entire music is flowing towards the supreme movement, towards those wonderful Schiller lines in which Beethoven expressed vigorously the sum of all the humanism accumulated in his shaken soul during his entire life. The lively shaped third movement – no pale contemplation here – is especially moving by the sweet blend of lyric strings and vividly chattering winds.

At the end however, the fourth movement is the weakest one: neither the female dominated choir nor the vocal quartet are first rate. Only the music’s rhythmic and dramatic force allows us to accept this. Bass-baritone Nathan Berg’s singing may be very committed but suffers from a clear uncertainty of pitch and missing vocal control. Soprano Erin Wall, mezzo-soprano Kendall Gladen and tenor William Burden are a little bit more convincing. MTT sweeps away those considerations by giving the movement power and electricity. The effect is just so amazing because Tilson Thomas had so carefully prepared the symphony’s entire structure to conclude in this dramatic denouement. Thus, the encounter with the sheer beauty and the deep meaning of this work creates such an extraordinary force of reality; here we fully realize, by the impact on our hearts, that this music originates from some power of the truth that became real in the composer’s inspiration.

Alles fließt in dieser ständig gut ausbalancierten und nie überspannten Interpretation dem krönenden Schlusssatz entgegen. Trotz eher mäßiger Vokalleistungen hinterlässt die Aufnahme einen tiefen Eindruck. Der Surround-Klang ist üppig, mit dichtem Streicherteppich und angeregt dialogierendem Blech.

Tout, dans cette interprétation parfaitement balancée et jamais survoltée, créé un flux bien rythmé vers le mouvement final. Malgré des prestations vocales tout juste de moyenne qualité, l’enregistrement est impressionnant. Le son surround est agréable, dense et aéré à la fois.

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