on 4 June 2001
I bought this thinking there must be a reason DG is reissuing it in addition to the Karajan 1963 version, they must have thought it has some merit. It does, and I favor it over all the Karajan editions, over everything I have (Stokowski, Furtwangler, Klemperer, Bernstein, Blomstedt, Sinopoli/DG, Muti, Walter - yes even the NYPO version)except Schmidt-Issterstedt (Decca). I was amazed. Its the rhythim, the caring about every note, the balance, the dynamics, the lack of acceleration/deceleration that many conductors indulge in, and the sound of St-Hedwigs Kathedrale choir. Each note is shaped with more care than Karajan (1963). The choir sounds more natural than Karajan's choir. On the minus sides there is tape hiss, and a few dropouts in the first movement, but only 2 and for a very short duration. And yet I have not seen a previous review of this in any publication including Penguin. Even Stereophile's Choral symphony roundup (June 1990) did not include this version (1957). A top version, if I were to be allowed only 2, it would be this and the Schmidt-Issertedt/VPO version (Decca). I would advise getting it before DG deletes it, Fricsay is not as famous as Karajan. This must be released in the USA, I hope someone from Universal will hear this.
on 27 March 2006
A must for all Beethoven lovers!
Once again this recording made afirms my beliefs that Fricsay deserves his place among legends such as Toscanini, Furtwängler or Klemperer (with great awe to all conductors not mentioned).
The clarity of the conducting, each tone where it should be, and the tempi... ah the tempi, a joy and delight to my ears. The best Presto I have ever heard, being on the verge of sheading tears throughout the movement... and I thought that I had heard the 9.th before!
It must be heard, since no words can describe the work of a genious such as Beethoven, conducted by the brilliant Fricsay backed by the BPO, 4 remarkable soloists and an utter most natural singing by the St. Hedwig-Cathedral Choir.
If Klemperers Fidelio/Solemnis, or Giulini's Don Giovanni has a speciall place in you heart, this will be the main vein.
on 2 October 2006
I cannot but wholeheartedly share my colleagues' enthusiasm for this recording. I grew up with it (and, in fact still own the original 2-LP red album shown in this CD's cover, numbered by DGG -yes, back then they had an extra "D" in their name- as 138002/3 SLPM, one of their very first essays in the then novel stereophonic technology) and it still remains very close to me. Besides the 9th Symphony and the Egmont Overture presented in this reissue, the original release included an excellent rendition of the Leonora Overture No. 3, left out now (I suppose) so that a second CD would not be needed. The CD's higher transfer volume helps in bringing the sound closer to the listener (DGG apparently having decided to play it safe when their engineers cut the LPs' masters in 1958) and conferring to it an immediacy and transparency new to me whilst preserving its beautiful tone.
There's not much I can add to what has been written by others in this site, apart perhaps that by 1957 the Berlin Philharmonic still was very much, staff-wise, what it was under Furtwangler and it shows in this recording's sonority. After all, the grand old man had died scarcely 3 years before these works were put into tape, Karajan had just taken over the orchestra as chief conductor and the lean, muscular and to-the-point sound that became characteristic under his long regime was still two or three years into the future. Karajan took to rotate the orchestra's musicians fairly often, far more often actually than was customary with his predecessors and the results of the first shake-up became apparent when in 1962 the same company presented the first of Karajan's three Beethoven symphony cycles he'd record with them, when the orchestra's new virtuosity surprised critics the world over (Karajan had in his record a prior Beethoven symphony cycle, made for EMI during the fifties with the Philharmonia Orchestra). But what we get here, and in fine early stereophony, is the grand old sonority of the orchestra, the one that still had links to the pre-war years but which soon enough would evolve into an instrument capable of aweing its audiences under their new and starry conductor on account of its virtuosity and perfection.
But Fricsay's interpretations differ greatly from Furtwangler's. There is a tautness of approach, a more modern focusing on architecture that does not look back in time as much of Furtw'ngler's work did (but splendidly so, I must add), embedded as it was on german romanticism, but decidedly centres in our own time. Fricsay's approach to the Symphony's 4th movement is as modern as the late fifties allowed to, marking a singular kind-of-extrapolated cue to today's "historically aware" presentations, and DGG feted him with an outstanding quartet of vocal soloists. Yes, the 3rd movement is slow, perhaps harking back to the grand old man's ways but Fricsay gave us lessons of tempo handling in the first and second movements that have nothing to do with Furtwangler's fluctuations, an approach decidedly his, full of musicianship and with a solid grasp of the beethovenian language. So it is also in the performance of the Egmont Overture which fortunately made its way to the disc.
Yes, cancer robbed us of an immensely talented conductor who probably would have rivalled Karajan (who was but a few years his senior) during much of the second half of the 20th Century. What would have become of Fricsay's career is anybody's guess, as is the case with other conductors (like Cantelli, for example) whose careers were cut short by untimely death, but mind you, if you decide to buy this disc you will end up with one of the finer recordings this warhorse has had ever.
on 29 December 2012
Beethoven's Ninth is one of the greatest pieces of music ever written. The more significant I find a piece, the more recordings I try to put my hands on, because usually different recordings highlight different aspects of the same piece, so I'm not much of a partisan of any recording in particular, even though there are some that I tend to listen to many more times than to others. I currently own over fifteen recordings of the Ninth (I still don't own many that others mention in their reviews here and elsewhere as definitive, so I guess I'll keep purchasing more and more recordings in the future), and this is among the top 2 I listen to, the other one being Furtwängler's 1954 Lucerne recording (Beethoven - Symphony No.9 (Hybrid SACD)).
It's approach is quite different from Furtwängler, it feels tighter, much less subjective, the tempi are generally faster (the Adagio actually feels as slow and beautiful to me as Furtwängler's recordings, even though it takes up roughly 5-10% less time than the Furtwängler recordings I own, the reason is probably that the Scherzo is so much faster, proceeding at a breakneck tempo), and altogether it's more dramatic, which I tend to like. Don't mistake me, Furtwängler's recordings also have drama, and also rank among the greatest recordings ever (I am never sure if I could only take one which one I would choose, a late Furtwängler recording or this Fricsay, but I hope I'll never have to make that choice), and depending on the mood one can always prefer one over the other.
This Fricsay recording is the first ever stereo recording of this symphony, and the sound quality is surprisingly good, although there is a slight background hiss, which I usually don't notice anymore, I'm so used to it. Of course modern recordings have better sound quality, but fortunately I'm not much of an audiophile. However, I made the mistake of first downloading the mp3 (from amazon.de, since I live in Switzerland), and later on as it became one of my favorites, I purchased the CD as well. Even though - as already mentioned - I'm not much into sound quality, the lossless is better sound quality than the official mp3. (I usually don't hear the difference between a 320 mp3 and a lossless, but I think the officially sold mp3 is somewhere in the range of 200-250 bitrate, and I think it's worth the extra few pounds (or euros) is definitely worth it. You'll also never regret having to pay twice.
It was recorded in December 1957 and January and April 1958. There is a significance in the beautifully played Egmont overture, which opens the CD: during the days of the Hungarian revolution in 1956, after the Radio Budapest building was damaged in the fighting and the broadcast had to move to a small temporary studio, an old record of the Egmont overture was the only music available, so this piece was played night and day in the intervals between official announcements. For this reason, in Hungary, Egmont is and was considered to be the music of the revolution. This must have been known to Fricsay, a Hungarian, just a bit more than a year after the events, and it shows: this is my favorite recording of the Egmont overture. I also think Egmont is a fitting introduction to the Ninth, although often (if I don't have time) I only listen to that, and sometimes I skip it and start with the symphony.
I thought it might be useful if I gave a list of the other recordings I have and how I like them. I have four and a half recordings from Furtwängler, two from 1942 (superb interpretation and terrible sound quality, especially the April one), two from 1951 Bayreuth (semi-live from EMI and live from Orfeo), I love both, 1954 Lucerne, which is my favorite from Furtwängler and together with Fricsay my favorite ever. I have three recordings from Karajan (1955, 1963, 1977), I would give four stars to the first two of those (good, but not really great) and three stars to the 1977 one. I always thought I disliked Karajan until realizing it's only his Beethoven that I don't like. I have a recording by Bernstein (late seventies, with the Wiener), and also an early Abbado (eighties, Wiener) and both are great (five stars), although I prefer both Fricsay and Furtwängler over these ones. I have Ansermet, and I would give four stars to that (somehow the approach is too light to me), I have Jos van Immerseel (period practice, just a few years old), which I like, but with the Ninth would probably only receive four stars from me. Harnoncourt, whose Ninth I dislike, three stars only. Celibidache, whose Beethoven I don't like at all, it would receive two stars only. Bernard Haitink with LSO (recent recording), which would also probably receive four stars from me. Barenboim (recent recording with Divan), four stars again, although I like his approach, it somehow doesn't work for me in this recording, it feels a bit like a good idea done badly (or at least not so well).
A strange thing is that I tend to like the other symphonies of those whose Ninth I dislike and vice versa: as if I would prefer a lighter approach elsewhere and a more traditional/Romantic approach in the Ninth. Fricsay is not different: Symphonies nos 3 "Héroïque", 5, 7 & 8 (French Import) I didn't really like at all.
on 30 June 2013
I think this performance is marvellous. Fricsay keeps things moving but nothing seems rushed. It reminds me of how the greatest Wagnerian conductors manage to make a long Act fly by while still paying great attention to every orchestral and vocal colour as though they were leading a chamber ensemble. I think, above all, that this may be something to do with Fricsay's masterly control of rhythm. One can almost 'see' his baton negotiating tempo changes. Every sequence involving counterpoint is incisive and musical rather than merely correct, as can so often be the case. This is possibly even more apparent in the Egmont overture which is also fabulously paced, shaped and balanced.
The 1958 DGG sound is as clear as a bell and every nuance is to be heard; the soloists are characterful, with Fischer-Dieskau sounding so much easier in his opening statement than heavy basses can be - but he has all the authority one could wish for. The sopranos in the St Hedwig Choir are at ease in the high tessitura and their sustained floated lines towards the very end sound unusually effortless and very beautiful indeed.
I cannot recommend this recording too highly
on 27 March 2008
Simply the Best 9th. Even compared by Klemperers, Fürtwänglers, Karajans, Soltis, Harnoncourts, Norringtons and Abbado etc. 9th. 5 super stars.
on 1 June 2014
I have over twenty recordings of the Choral Symphony in my collection including legendary performances by Furtwangler, Karajan and Klemperer. In all fairness, this recording of the ninth symphony is absolutely thrilling and easily goes into the small group of the truly great performances of Beethoven's timeless masterpiece. It's the phrasing, clarity of texture, orchestral detail, consistency of tempo and the immaculate playing of the orchestra which make this recording so thrilling and moving. I was almost spell-bound on my first hearing of this magnificent recording and revisited it God knows how many times for more musical pleasure and excitement.
Don't miss this recording. It is probably the best testament to the art of a great conductor whose untimely death was a big loss to the world of classical music.
Fricsay's stereo Beethoven 9th was DG's first stereo recording and the first stereo recording of this symphony ever attempted. It is a performance fit for the occasion. I know that the performance of the 9th from the 1963 Karajan Beethoven symphony cycle has overshadowed many other analogue stereo Beethoven 9ths from this era. However this Fricsay performance has merits of its own. It is more remarkable that Fricsay recorded a lot before his untimely death from cancer in 1963, and as such this Ninth has a value of its own.
There are times when Fricsay's performance anticipates not just Karajan 63 but also the historically sensitive versions done by Mackerras, Gardiner and Krivine. As such I would describe Fricsay's version as a progressive 9th. I know that Toscanini and Fritz Busch nodded to Beethoven's metronome speeds in their performance, but I liked the subtle nods and Fricsay's willingness to push along. What I like about this version is Fricsay's questioning approach to this music. The performance itself is tightly-focused and rhythmically incisive.
The performance takes time to warm up. In the first movement exposition, you might think that the performance nods to the old-school German Romantic tradition. However in the development you can feel that the music has woken up. I detect traces and twinges of nervous energy to propel the music forward, especially in the fugato. There is a brief respite before the shattering recapitulation. I note that this passage is comparatively faster than the corresponding passage in the opening bars. As such I note that here Fricsay almost approximated Beethoven's fast marked speed and brings out the brutality of this music. From then on it's smooth sailing for the rest of the movement. I smiled that Fricsay did not make a dirge out of the funeral march passage before the closing salvo.
The second movement springs along nicely and has a relaxed Trio with excellent wind soloists and lovely voice leading between the sections.
The slow movement takes a minute less than Furtwangler's version. However Fricsay elicits a beautiful, singing tone from the strings and the winds. I like the way that Fricsay sustained the tempo across the variations and did not slow down for the more complex variations. I do wish that the violins had been more flighty in the complex 12/8 variation. But I liked the flow of the movement at a steady tempo. The fanfares at the climax came off well and did not sound ponderous.
From the moment we hear the lower strings play the Joy theme, the finale fizzles and snaps with energy for a performance of the time. Fricsay's team of soloists is generally good. I love the sense of authority in Fischer'Dieskau's first solo when he tells the orchestra not to have any more of the previous sounds. He calls to mind Jan-Hendrik Rootering's commanding solos in the 1989 Freedom performance of the 9th that Bernstein conducted towards the end of his life.
The only downside is the choral singing. It is strong, powerful and in tune. However the big bother is the militaristic articulation of every syllable. (This means that they sing everything at forte levels and treat their part like a military march. I'm not alone in observing this. This Fricsay 9th was included in the DG/TouchPress iPad app of this symphony and Simon Halsey complains about this militaristic choral articulation when he listens to this performance.) However the chorus is at its best in the Awe theme (the first Seid umschlungen, Millionen section.)
I particularly note the way that Fricsay speeds up gradually in the Allegro assai vivace passage (from the Turkish March through the fugue up to the choral catharsis of the Joy theme.) It allows the music to generate its own momentum. It is another progressive touch in nodding to Beethoven's marks, even though this was done before the publication of Del Mar's Bärenreiter edition.
This is a well-characterised, questioning performance of the 9th the deserves its place in history.
on 1 July 2012
This has to be one of the best recordings of overture'Egmont' I have heard - met expectations, but at times the brass sounded too loud and out of control which was a slight disappointment. The Ninth symphony again suffered in places from the same problem, but apart from that it was a lovely interpretation, particularly the 3rd movement, where the sustained legato heped the whole movement just flow from start to finish. An interesting, enjoyable recording I will enjoy listening to many times.
on 30 January 2012
I absolutely agree with other reviewers. A flabbergasting performance, unbeatable this side of heaven!
Other people haven't mentioned the Egmont Overture which is also on the CD. Like the 9th Symphony this is a brilliantly conceived performance, totally full of dynamics and straight-to-the-jugular energy and power. An absolutely electrifying performance, I usually have tears streaming down my cheeks by the time the piccolos pierce their way in at the end, it's that good!