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Beethoven: Symphony 9

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Amazon.com: HASH(0x8e5614e0) out of 5 stars 17 reviews
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e3e81d4) out of 5 stars Monochrome is right 10 Oct. 2007
By Ryan Richards - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Amen to the reviewer who labeled this CD "monochrome." This is, technically, an extremely competent recording of Beethoven's Ninth (and of course, from the Cleveland Orchestra, I expected no less). But all that artistry goes for naught, because it doesn't *say* anything. George Szell ripped the hell out of this symphony with the same orchestra on his rightly famous recording, and even Dohnányi's Cleveland recording of the mid-'80s had his distinctive "iron fist in a velvet glove" sound. In contrast, Welser-Möst gives us a well-performed, absolutely anonymous run-through of a great symphony, with nothing to separate it from the hordes of other Beethoven Ninth recordings that fit that description. He certainly doesn't do anything wrong, and this is an utterly safe recording to give to someone who's just learning about this symphony, but I can think of a half-dozen other recordings off the top of my head (Szell, Karajan 1962, Solti 1972, Wand, Dohnányi, Leinsdorf) that, for whatever quirks or idiosyncrasies they might contain, are still more committed, more considered, more individual, and ultimately much more involving than this one. A disappointment coming from my favorite orchestra.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e3e8f54) out of 5 stars Monochrome 10 Oct. 2007
By M. Seeley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I really wanted to like this recording of the Cleveland Orchestra under the leadership of Franz Welser-Most. It is the ensembles first recording since 1999/2000, so I was hoping that Franz might bring some distinctive ideas about this great work. But after a couple listenings it all just seems like a sprint to the finish line. It is a lukewarm interpretation that lacks the Cleveland's legendary rhythmic precision and precise attack.

I hate to put it this way, but this performance is like watching black and white TV. Monochrome is how I would paint this performance. There is none of the old Szellian build up of tension. It is so smooth that it flattens out the many details and nuances. Franz seeming has no sense of the symphony's architecture. The orchestra plays with refined elegance but without any distictive point of view from its leader.

Seeing that this orchestra is my favorite, the bottom line is that I was disappointed. This CD did not meet my expecations from "the best band in the land."
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x91da009c) out of 5 stars Best Cleveland Orchestra recording of Beethoven's 9th 6 Mar. 2009
By Christopher Farrell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I must admit to being a little surprised at the predominantly lukewarm to negative reviews of this recording here. I'm a Clevelander originally, my clarinet teacher when I was younger was a Cleveland Orchestra alternate, and my high school orchestra had several children of orchestra members in it at the time. So I was a little disappointed to hear it had been going downhill.

Fortunately, I discover that the rumors of the Cleveland Orchestra's demise appear to be greatly exaggerated. Out of curiosity, I went back and listened to the three recordings the Cleveland Orchestra has made of this piece, under Szell, Dohnanyi, and Welser-Möst. And, just for good measure, the Karajan/Berlin Philharmonic version many consider definitive.

What I love about the Welser-Möst version is how unique it is amongst the other recordings. Part of this is, of course, that it's recorded live in Severance Hall and so the sound has a slightly less rich, but crisper and more authentic feel to it. But the thing I like the most, perhaps because of my background as a clarinet player, is how well all the interior lines of the symphony are brought forward in turn and how well you can hear all the things going on in the different orchestra sections at the same time. Also, I feel like the wind and different string sections are given a little more prominence here which I like; when the brass kicks in it doesn't seem to overwhelm everyone else. The balance between and choreography amongst the different parts is very distinctive and to me very interesting and pleasing to listen to. It also shows off the exceptional skill of the musicians, as the precision of their playing is on greater display here than in other recordings I feel.

Of course, when you plunk down your cash for a recording of Beethoven's 9th, you're paying as much for the vocal performance as for the orchestra. My general feeling on the vocal bits is that they are often performed too operatically. Schiller's Ode to Joy is a poem, not an opera. When the baritone breaks in with "O Freunde, Nicht Diese Töne!" it is an invocation, a clarion call, and therefore the lyrics should, in my opinion, be comprehensible. This is one reason why the Szell recording is actually my least favorite of the four I listened to, because I honestly can't make out a word the baritone is singing, and I even have passable German. And I've listened to various versions of this symphony a fair bit. The solosts in the this new edition are very good, their voices and the lyrics are quite clear, and they sing well and in good balance as an ensemble. My only complaint is the soprano, which is always a difficult, risky, and exposed performance, and I feel she is a little overwhelming at times here (I am spoiled by the Karajan/Berlin Philharmonic recording which has an absolutely stunning soprano performance).

At any rate, I thoroughly enjoyed this recording and am happy to call it my favorite Cleveland Orchestra recording of Beethoven's 9th, and put it on the shelf next to the Berlin Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra performance under Dohnanyi. After years of figuring I basically knew what the 9th sounded like, this provided a wonderful new perspective, brilliantly performed.


As a brief addenda, I think it really pays to listen to this recording with good speakers or good headphones. I listened to it again recently on some lower-quality headphones, and you know what, it didn't sound very good; sort of mushy almost, and I was almost worried I needed to re-write my review (the other performances sounded OK even under suboptimal conditions). But on my higher-quality iPod headset it sounded much crisper and clearer. You may also need to make sure you haven't got any equalizer presets enabled so you can get the full range properly.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e93d210) out of 5 stars A conductor or a metronome? 2 Nov. 2007
By Damir Janigro - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
We all know what the Cleveland Orchestra, Szell or no Szell, is capable of. We admired for years the absolute devotion to intonation, phrasing, precision, and, why not, adventurous progressions in Bruckner, Beethoven, Mahler. Even the occasional "bad" note was welcome. Now we are left with a great orchestra with a great metronome, as the one that often frustrated our piano practice, with insistence that only a 6am alarm clock reproduces. This is Beethoven without a soul, without a story or history.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e3eb8b8) out of 5 stars The Szell Sound is Gone...... 17 Oct. 2007
By Todd Krieger - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
It's been a while since the Cleveland Orchestra has released a new recording, and with great anticipation, Franz Welser Möst's first CD release, the monumental Beethoven Ninth Symphony. An opportunity to finally hear the new conductor performing in the renovated Severance Hall.

But almost an hour later, the anticipation became depression.

Gone was the Szell sound. The energy, the "snap", the phrasing, the dynamics, the execution, that made the Cleveland Orchestra one of the greatest symphony orchestras ever assembled. Lorin Maazel sustained it, but he was not the interpretational genius that Szell was. Christoph von Dohnanyi may have been more palatable with interpretation, but things softened-up a bit.

But under Franz Welser Möst, after listening to this work (and Bruckner's Fifth Symphony on DVD), I'm almost afraid that the Cleveland Orchestra sound can be described as "anemic." With the Beethoven Ninth, it almost sounds like Claude Debussy re-orchestrated it.

The performance to me was so boring, I really cannot think of any real high points. The opening movement was kind of glossed over. There is none of the sinewy manic-depressive character that normally casts the mood for the remainder of the work. The second movement, maybe the strongest, still lacked the intensity when called for. The third movement had none of the riveting depth, and is just a boring exercise in slow music. The final movement, seemingly directionless, is well played, but that's it. (Although the wind players have no projection, maybe the most-striking change from the Szell/Maazel/Dohnanyi years.) The explosiveness and spontaneity are a distant memory.

After I played the performance, I played part of the Szell, and I was too depressed to think about how great the Cleveland Orchestra once was. Whether the problem is Möst himself or the institution becoming unable to attract top performers remains to be seen.
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