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Symphonies 3, 9 (2 CD)

09-16-2014 Which of the 9 Symphonies was his best? My only music teacher was my Uncle Tom, a retired college US History professor from Notre Dame. He was also a Catholic priest and had enjoyed listening to his three favorite composers during his seminary days. Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert headed his list and this Symphony sat at the top. It made we wonder if Beethoven had written himself out, and I began to feel that he had done just that. As for the 9th? Well, it’s been used by the commercial media to sell everything from military recruitment to salad dressing. However, this 2 CD pack from the nice folks at DGG, offers these two popular and grand works for a ridiculously low price of around $5. 00 or less, with admonishments to read about their structure, history and effect upon the ongoing development of music in general. These two works serve as bookends for most of the composer’s best material, such as the 5 piano concerti, the wonderful Violin Concerto, Fidelio the Masses and several splendid overtures and chamber works, not the least of which are his fine trios, piano Sonati and string quartets. For a major orchestra featuring a summertime music festival this would be a terrific program, the works of Beethoven written between the 3rd and 9th Symphonies. An intriguing idea, I must say. Bohm, in the Eroica, presents this work with the appropriate amount of propulsion and brightness. His approach is essentially Western European, and it suits this epic score very comfortably. I particularly enjoyed his bubbly, effervescent Scherzo and the rapid move on the fly into the finale of 12:27. Superb!! And, if I were a conductor, I’d do this the exact same way. As we advance to disk #2, we hear the Beethoven 9th Symphony, in d-minor and I find this work more approachable than most of his other pieces in his repertoire. I believe it was his Ode to Joy music that was used so effectively in the 1976 Summer Olympic Games in Montreal, as the youth of the world celebrated the joy of sport and international camaraderie. Once again, Dr. Bohm handles this music with zest, élan, drama and sweep, the VPO playing their hearts out, as usual. My guess is that these works were recorded in the very early 70’s, perhaps 71 or 72. Bohm’s 9th opens with that big, powerful Allegro, un poco Maestoso of over 16 and a half minute sand one can clearly detect the restraint by the Maestro as he carefully releases just enough energy with which to keep the listener interested. The really good scherzo may be the composer’s finest single creation For years it was used in the credits for the NBC nightly news broadcast. His Adagio is expressive and gentle, but it never approaches the touching dignity of the mammoth "funeral march" of the Eroica and it is impossible to listen to the 9th’s slow movement without the obvious comparison with the 3rd’s slow movement. The finale has that magic that makes it the exquisite centerpiece that it is. opening on the rather stormy side, the first go around of the Schiller Ode to Joy comes off rather sedate and reasonable, well controlled and contained within Bohm’s baton. He stresses the poetry right from the get-go and he captivate us with this lesser appreciated side of the great Bonn Master. Bass Karl Ridderbusch kicks off the festivities in big, bold voice with the absolutely terrific Chorus of the Vienna State opera responds and draws in the balance of the soloists, including Gwyneth Jones, Tatiana Troyonos and Jess Thomas, the soprano, alto and tenor voices giving their all for Beethoven and Bohm. They payoff this music well, with a very excellent blend of heroism and poetry, and I especially enjoyed Mr. Thomas’s solo in the lighthearted 2nd theme. His voice is nimble, perky and truly joyous, as I picture him with a big smile on his face. In fact, everyone sounds as if they’re having a grand time of it. His Wagnerian heldentenor range fits this rousing music like the proverbial glove. And, Bohm keeps up the tempo and proper weight of this segment as he builds towards a wonderful climactic conclusion. The re-entry of the chorus at 07:35 is resounding and has a sensational global flavor as it seems as if the whole world has joined in the singing. As the text takes us into the stars, the mystical appeal of this sublime material seized my senses like few other interpretations have in the past. I became an enthusiastic fan of Karl Bohm instantly and now I can’t wait to collect more from this great German Maestro. He brings to mind the excellent 9ths via Paavo Jarvi, Karajan, Abbado and Wand, to name but a few. Big leaguers all, but this rendition from KB ranks near the top of a very large repertoire of choices. I could just feel the moniker of "war horse" slip away as there is NOTHING routine about this performance. On the contrary, it is exceptional, indeed, and comes highly recommended. AND, while I still think the 9th may not be his crowning composition, this 72 plus minute recording stands tall in the saddle, to be sure. Take my advice, and grab your copy today and ENJOY and partake of this overwhelmingly ethereal music, a fitting "swan song" from the great Ludwig van Beethoven. Best wishes for several hours of happy and fulfilling listening, and God bless everyone, Tony. AMDG!!! Check it out!

This is one of the greatest recordings of the famous Ninth Symphony. It has long been overshadowed by Karajan’s three recordings for the same label, as well as Bernstein’s version with the same orchestra. But put them all on your CD player and compare, and this is the one you’ll be coming back to. Böhm was the least glamorous of conductors, but he approaches the Ninth with messianic zeal and a fanatical gleam in his eye. The opening movement is a cataclysm, the sublime slow movement never loses its contemplative flow, and everyone involved simply sings and plays the pants off of the finale. If the final minute or two doesn’t pull you right out of your seat, nothing will. Grab it while you can at this “twofer” price. It’s a steal. –David Hurwitz

 

 

 

Symphonies 3, 9 (2 CD) Review

 

Bohm picks a moderate tempo for the 3rd Symphony, and this is typical Bohm performance: calculated, firm, and unsentimental. This ‘Eroica’ shares much of the grandeur found in Klemperer’s version. However, ultimately Klemperer, with his marginally slower tempi but grittier execution, produces a more granitic and “heroic” sound that is more to my liking. While not the greatest, it is a very wonderful reading, and a fine example of ‘Eroica’ going (moderately) slow. The features that make this Ninth classic are balance, poise, and intensity. I believe Bohm, here, has found the perfect balance between Classical grandeur and Romantic emotional sensitivity. The first mvmt. is slower than most versions, but the formidable sonority produced by Vienna Phil more than makes up for the lack of speed, and this is in fact the most intense 1st mvmt. I’ve heard. Incidentally, as Mr. Hurwitz has pointed out, the monstrous recapitulation in major key is superbly executed, with the trumpets resounding aggressively–almost terrifyingly so. And I absolutely love how Bohm ignites the orchestra and chorus into white-hot intensity in the final Presto section and brings the whole piece to its highest emotional plateau. Again, allow me to compare Bohm to Klemperer. Similar to Bohm, Klemperer takes his time to brew up some impressive tension, but in the Presto he uses too much restrain, and as a result the joyous feeling doesn’t soar quite like Bohm’s. Overall these are very emotionally complete versions of the ‘Eroica’ and Ninth, and prime examples of the “old-school”, traditional Germanic approach to Beethoven. -Read Reviews-

While some criticism of Bohm’s Beethoven Symphonies relate to his tempi being too slow, I nevertheless discovered that one of my biggest considerations in choosing a Beethoven conductor, (I do own others like Reiner, Hogwood, Toscanini), turned out to be over the timpani, not the tempo. I don’t know about your ears, but I can’t stand listening to Beethoven Symphonies by the supposed great conductors with out-of-tune musicians and timpani that sound like dead pots! Funny thing about this underrated conductor, Karl Bohm, his musicans are always in-tune and the timpani always resonate as an integral and balanced part of the orchestra and the score. Also important to me in choosing a conductor, Bohm consistently manages to bring a presence and sense of drama to these works that the so-called great conductors often fail to achieve. I’m not an expert, but maybe, that’s the best part of his operatic skill coming through. P.S. Deutsche Gramophon no longer lists these Bohm recordings of the Beethoven cycle, as available.

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