2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Possibly the best stereo recording of the Ninth,
This review is from: Beethoven: Egmont Overture, Symphony 9 (DG The Originals) (Audio CD)
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.