Symphony No.9 in D minor, Op.125 (Choral)
Emma Bell (soprano), Anna Stéphany (mezzo-soprano), John Daszak (tenor) & Gerald Finley (baritone)
London Philharmonic Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Alan Sanders
Reviewed: 1 March, 2014
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
At the beginning of the ‘Choral’ Symphony, Vladimir Jurowski’s intentions were immediately evident. There was no sense of mystery, no anticipation of something extraordinary about to happen. It was a simple exposition of the score’s opening paragraphs, taken at an impatiently fast tempo. And thus it continued; a hasty, literal and gabbled run-through, with few inflections and not a hint of the music’s true greatness. So it was in scherzo, again rushed. The natural inner pulse of the music was entirely missing; the music charged along, sometimes metronomically. The trio was taken at a furious, almost incoherent pace, the LPO playing obediently and efficiently, players given no room for individual expression in solo passages.
Far be it for the third movement to always be taken in the intensely slow, ruminative manner favoured by conductors in the past, Furtwängler especially: despite the Adagio molto marking it becomes a much more effective entity when taken at a flowing tempo. Jurowski’s basic tempo was swift, yet he continually pushed the music forward; there was little real expression in his conducting. Matters did not initially improve in the finale, and at first both the excellent chorus and the admirable soloists (placed behind the orchestra) were held on a very tight rein. But as the movement developed Jurowski relented a little, and he more or less allowed the music its intrinsic expression. So – at last – we experienced the full force of Beethoven’s mighty inspiration and the work came to a joyful conclusion.