Beethoven
Symphony No.9 in D-minor, Op.125 (Choral)
Rie Miyake (soprano), Mihoko Fujimura (mezzo-soprano), Kei Fukui (tenor) & Markus Eiche (baritone)

Tokyo Opera Singers

Mito Chamber Orchestra
Seiji Ozawa

Recorded 10-15 October 2017 at Art Tower Mito, Mito City, Ibaraki, Japan
CD No: DECCA 483 4431
Duration: 69 minutes
Reviewed: May 2019

The handpicked Mito Chamber Orchestra (a mix of stellar Japanese and European musicians) delivers greater weight of sound than its name might suggest, although it obviously isn’t a ‘full’ symphony orchestra, and clarity is a gain, benefitting from a well-managed recording in an acoustic that is rather dry yet betrays reverberation.

Seiji Ozawa does though lead a compassionate ‘Choral’ Symphony, sincere and shapely, with dedicated playing and singing and vivid tuttis, yet the overall performance, for all the excellence of the execution, is rather more homespun that transcendental. The first movement fares well, moderate to quick on the tempo scale, always going somewhere if without rush, and arriving forcefully, yet while one might register a bassoon note or flute peck that in other accounts could be lost, the listener’s emotional pulses are not set alight to the very highest degree. Nor in the Scherzo (with the second repeat omitted, unfortunately); for, despite rhythmic buoyancy and a malleable Trio (better this than harrying the latter, whatever the composer’s wishes for it to get quicker), and as likeable as the music-making is, something is missing.

Nevertheless, the (here fifteen-minute) slow movement is blissful, played raptly and with a properly spacious attention to the Adagio marking and a well-judged one for the Andante contrasts; Ozawa distinguishes the two while making them dovetail – there is much that is affecting and intensely grown to. The Schiller-inspired Ode-to-Joy Finale is the cleft stick of this account. Ozawa is intent on a significant traversal, but a relatively small string section and what seems from a booklet photo to be a thirty-strong choir conspire to something leaner than might be desired, although every sinew is strained. However, Markus Eiche is commanding with “O Freunde, nicht diese Töne”, and all the singers conjure brotherhood and delight, Ozawa parading the music candidly.

This likeable ‘Choral’ may not usurp existing favourites – mine include Klemperer (Testament SBT1177, a live Royal Festival Hall performance from 1957 captured in stereo) and Solti’s early-1970s monumental first Chicago recording (also Decca, his digital remake was disappointing in relation to it) – but this Ozawa has quite a few aspects in its favour, greeted by enthusiastic applause (whichever of the renditions is being hailed) and certainly the closing stages are joyfully uplifting.

 

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