In his Leipzig years Kurt Masur made two complete Beethoven cycles in the Seventies and early Nineties; this Ninth comes from the earlier cycle; both were recorded by Philips. The sound is bold and close-up, and the Gewandhaus sounds secure, even if brass and woodwind sections aren't very strong. I am not remotely a Masur fan, finding him a skilled Kapellmeister who did yeoman service bringing discipline back to the NY Phil. while ushering in an era of unprecedented dullness. It was a relief when the board let him go early. But he is a major conductor, and like other non-favorites of mine such as Maazel and Ozawa, he's capable of a strong performance.
This Ninth is strong in a traditionalist way. Masur was bucking the tide as period-flavored Beethoven began to come into vogue. Thee's not a trace of that here. He aims for a powerful, full-blooded reading and mostly achieves his goal. The first movement holds taut throughout, with a few rhythmic lapses, and sets the appropriate heroic tone. The Scherzo is straightforward; at least Masur allows the woodwinds to express some warmth and flexibility, so the overall effect isn't of mindless repetition. I've heard more dramatic thrust elsewhere, but no complaints.
the heart of the Ninth is the Adagio, which has lately been betrayed by speeding it up almost to the point of absurdity. Beethoven's erratic metronome markings, once dismissed out of hand as unplayable and then accepted with many exceptions, are now gospel, a strange turnaround. At 15 min., Masur's pacing is quick although no quicker than Klemperer's, surprisingly; he's not out to make the kind of deep philosophical statement that Furtwangler made. The playing is subdued, the reading rather sober. One gets a sense of respect, but Masur turns out to have nothing special to say in this greatest of all slow movements - too bad.
the finale begins with moderate force and conviction, with nothing exceptional or untoward happening. As with what preceded it, one would be happy to hear this reading at a subscription concert. Theo Adam handles the bass solo with skill and taste - he does more than bellow - although I am allergic to his gargly voice. the rest of the solo quartet - Tomova-Simtow, Schreier, and Burmeister - represent a high standard of singing and blend together like a real ensemble, with Masur giving them room to relax into Beethoven's cruel vocal writing. The chorus is large and quite good, although as usual on records you can't make out their words. Masur paces each episode with care, and altogether this is a thoughtful rather than a hectic finale; its musicality is appealing.
Of course, thee are great Ninths on CD but not many stalwart traditional ones in good sound from an experienced Beethoven interpreter. If you know what you're in for, Masur's Ninth is a good choice.