London Philharmonic – Tennstedt Conducts Beethoven’s Choral Symphony

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.9 in D minor, Op.125 (Choral)

Lucia Popp (soprano)
Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano)
Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor)
René Pape (bass)

London Philharmonic Choir

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Klaus Tennstedt

Recorded 8 October 1992 in Royal Festival Hall, London

Reviewed by: Graham Rogers

Reviewed: March 2009
CD No: LPO – 0026
Duration: 72 minutes



The first movement is unhurried in tempo, but never relaxed, Tennstedt’s deeply penetrating direction makes the music burn with fierce white heat. The pulsating strings at the opening bristle with urgency, and the tempestuous episode at the heart of the development is earth-shatteringly epic in scale. The scherzo is thrillingly fast, but not rushed; monumentally weighty without getting bogged-down – a remarkable achievement.

The slow movement could do with a touch more forward momentum at times, but it is hard to quibble with such a beautiful sound (ethereally floating violins), well-crafted lines and sense of intimacy. Crucial to the success of the whole performance are the vibrant and well-defined brass and timpani – in contrast to many other accounts. The blazing horns, especially, bring warmth and light to many a passage.

The finale begins with a ferociously apocalyptic outburst (running attacca from the Adagio); the world-famous melody, when it finally arrives in orchestral tutti, has a magisterially confident swagger rivalled by few others. Once the choir enters, Tennstedt occasionally over-eggs the pudding with his grand gestures: the massive pull-up at the end of “Und der Cherub steht … vor … Gott!” is a little excessive. But, generally, the glorious orchestral playing and robust London Philharmonic Choir, singing with supreme conviction, ensure that the performance remains faithfully within the spirit of Beethoven’s exuberant paean to Joy and Brotherhood.

The solo quartet is one of the strongest line-ups ever assembled. The dark-hued and charismatic René Pape excels, as does, at the other end of the spectrum, the peerless Lucia Popp – in one of her last appearances before her untimely death in 1993. The recorded sound (professionally made using digital technology) is vivid and reasonably clear (far superior to the murky private-tape 1984 “The Creation” with the same forces in the same hall, also on the LPO label).

Tennstedt brings immense insight to Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony. This account speaks directly, sparks with energy and is imbued with deep emotion, rendering questions of historically-informed practice largely redundant. Highly recommended to all.

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