Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Most Extraordinary Recording of Beethoven 9

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Truly extraordinary, but far from perfect. No recording is perfect. But this is the recording, for all its bizarre touches, which comes closest to my own conception. But the fact that I prefer this recording to just about all others troubles me very deeply. It comes from Nazi-era Netherlands, and the one quality, the only important quality, which this recording lacks is perhaps the most important quality of all - that final humanist glow which makes the 9th feel like a statement of love rather than coercion. I have no idea if the politics of a performance matter matter, there are Nazi-era recordings which have that glow in spades (for one, Furtwangler's famous 1942 performance of the Ninth, a conductor with far more conflicted feelings about the Nazi party than Mengelberg). The first three movements are beyond compare, and so is the last movement, but the tone of the performance is so utterly regimented, so commanding and dynamic, that it feels like a Beethoven 9 for Nuremberg, not humanity. 

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