Beethoven: Symphony No 9; Choral Fantasy - Freiburger Barockorchester. © 2020 harmonia mundi musique sas

CD Spotlight

Triumphant Optimism

LUCAS BALL compares two Beethoven choral works on a new recording from harmonia mundi

'I love what the chorus does here ...'

 

I can't help but compare and contrast Beethoven's Choral Fantasia Op 80 with his Symphony No 9. This CD set's programme notes mention his Choral Fantasia saying: 'Its structure of a long introduction, followed by a simple, folk-like tune and variations, interspersed with other material before the solo voices and then chorus finally enter towards the end was entirely novel'. The notes point out that 'Beethoven adopted these and other features of the work when he came to write the chorale finale of this Ninth Symphony some fifteen years later, in 1823'. There is triumphant optimism in both works and this recording of the Choral Fantasia surely highlights the similarity deftly.

Listen — Beethoven: Adagio ma non troppo (Choral Fantasy)
(CD2 track 3, 2:23-3:16) © 2020 harmonia mundi musique sas :

Listen — Beethoven: Allegro (Choral Fantasy)
(CD2 track 4, 1:13-1:51) © 2020 harmonia mundi musique sas :

Much of the same approach comes into force for their reading of the Choral Symphony movements on CD1.

There is a strident sound and it too has playful moments.

Listen — Beethoven: Molto vivace (Choral Symphony)
(CD1 track 2, 0:00-0:45) © 2020 harmonia mundi musique sas :

Moments such as when the first solo bass entry comes in the final movement, very sudden changes of mood, are handled in a masterly fashion.

Listen — Beethoven: Finale. Presto (Choral Symphony)
(CD1 track 4, 5:13-6:07) © 2020 harmonia mundi musique sas :

I love what the chorus does here as well, Schiller's words of 'peace' and 'harmony' coming over stridently as they do in the best of recordings of the Choral Symphony.

Listen — Beethoven: Finale. Presto (Choral Symphony)
(CD1 track 4, 6:37-6:55) © 2020 harmonia mundi musique sas :

The Choral Fantasia's part cadenza-like, part sonata-like opening has a very suitable improvisational feel to it. Beethoven seems to have belief in dominant sevenths in various inversions in this opening and so does fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout in his delivery of it.

Listen — Beethoven: Adagio (Choral Fantasy)
(CD2 track 1, 0:01-0:31) © 2020 harmonia mundi musique sas :

There are interesting sequences - the sort of material that one gets from Beethoven Piano Sonatas.

Listen — Beethoven: Adagio (Choral Fantasy)
(CD2 track 1, 0:43-1:11) © 2020 harmonia mundi musique sas :

The 'question' and 'answer' effect that comes later is also handled very effectively and I like the gradual evolution into the familiar theme. The playful execution comes over as much as other recordings - there are some great live recordings on YouTube - despite the stop and start feel.

This recording does feel like a fast movement of a Piano Concerto - at times like Piano Concerto No 1. Beethoven's key changes are one of the interesting assets but so is the soloist's expressivity.

There are lyrical and triumphantilist passages from fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout and the Freiburger Barockorchester.

Listen — Beethoven: Adagio ma non troppo (Choral Fantasy)
(CD2 track 3, 0:14-0:49) © 2020 harmonia mundi musique sas :

When the vocal soloists and Zürcher Sing-Akademie join the drama it is hard to fault what they do under the direction of Pablo Heras-Casado.

Copyright © 12 November 2020 Lucas Ball,
Worcestershire UK

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CD INFORMATION - BEETHOVEN: SYMPHONY NO 9; CHORAL FANTASY

FURTHER INFORMATION: LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

FURTHER INFORMATION: HARMONIA MUNDI

 

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