Symphony No.9 in D minor, Op.125 (Choral)
Mary Dunleavy (soprano)
Elizabeth Bishop (mezzo-soprano)
Stephen Gould (tenor)
Alastair Miles (bass)
Atlanta Symphony Chorus
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Recorded January 2003 in Symphony Hall, Woodruff Arts Center, Atlanta, Georgia
CD No: TELARC SACD-60603 [Hybrid CD/SACD] Duration: 69 minutes Reviewed: December 2003
Beethoven 9 Runnicles
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
If finding myself on that desert-island, I would miss two Chorals in particular the live Philharmonia Klemperer from 1957 on Testament, and the first of Soltis Chicago recordings for Decca. Now, I would also miss Donald Runnicless vigorous and dedicated account.
This is not a seismic wave-making version from Atlanta. What it is, though, is an uncommonly musical and thoughtfully prepared reading that is communicative, inviting and moreish. Runnicles has secured a polished and committed response from his Atlanta forces (he is Principal Guest Conductor there).
In his preparation, Runnicles has been meticulous. Yet, such I-dotting and T-crossing does not stand in the way of spontaneity or open-hearted expression; indeed Runnicless sense of rhythmic vitality keeps the music moving; not only that, such motion always seems in search of something and we arrive too.
If tempos are unexceptionable, Runnicless attention to detail, to bowing, to balance and all other musical criteria reports a labour of love. What emerges on the finished Hybrid (that is, playable on both CD and SACD machines) is not a transcript of a conductor who is able to put the work together, rather it is of a deeply considerate musician who inspires through alertness and absolute faith in the music.
With hearty and pristine singing from the Atlanta Symphony Chorus, a better-than-average solo quartet, and splendidly attuned orchestral playing, Runnicles achieves an ample climactic arc in the first movement, a buoyant Scherzo (the important second repeat observed), a slow movement of measured eloquence in which the Andante contrasts are tellingly observed and, after a perfect attacca, the choral finale is seamless in its tempo relationships and wholly natural unfolding. Indeed, Runnicles gets so many things right whether in expressive weighting, rhythmic pointing, dynamic contrasts or cumulative tension; another pluspoint is his use of antiphonal violins.
This is a version of this seminal work that has given me great satisfaction over several listens. I must report, though, that the sound when heard in the CD format is pale, grey and remote (in relative DDD terms). On SACD, using high-quality (expensive) headphones if not taking the Surround, multichannel option the reproduction, while not the last word in audiophile acclamation, is certainly more present and fuller-toned. Ultimately, though, its the music that matters and its performance: in this respect, Telarc has a winner on its hands.