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Symphony No. 9
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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."
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
My chief criticism of this performance is the soloists in the final movement. Specifically I thought Rene Pape was outstanding but I didn't think the four soloists' voices melded... Read morePublished on May 21, 2011 by Richard I. Lutton
Firstly, let me say I am a great fan of the Cleveland Orchestra. I have heard them live, even during the Szell era and the ensemble was always wonderful to experience. Read morePublished on August 11, 2010 by Richard Brookes
Probably one of the most often recorded and performed 'extravaganza symphonies' is the Beethoven 9th and it is no surprise that DGG united with the Cleveland Orchestra for a live... Read morePublished on April 24, 2010 by Grady Harp
I'm glad I ultimately decided to check this out, despite some negative reactions here. This often happens with FWM, because he has his own approach, and a lot of people miss what... Read morePublished on January 18, 2009 by Mark Jordan
It becomes clear when one listens to this performance, why the classical CD industry lives a delicate balance, and why MP3 downloads are growing. Read morePublished on October 24, 2008 by John C. Ontko
Being an unwavering disciple the Cleveland Orchestra, and having gone to many concerts over the past 10 years, there was no doubt in my mind where I would be in the middle of... Read morePublished on October 3, 2008 by M. Komperda
More like "Ch-ode to Joy" once the listener realizes how AWFUL this recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is. Read morePublished on September 19, 2008 by Shota Hanai
Being a Clevelander, I wanted to like this recording. Despite some grumbling in the local press, Welser-Most ("Call me Franz") is a popular figure among local music lovers. Read morePublished on March 13, 2008 by Hank Drake
I've hear live performances of this piece performed by Szell/Cleveland, Maazel/Cleveland, and Norrington/LA Phil, as well as recorded performances by Szell/Cleveland,... Read morePublished on February 24, 2008 by Dr. Lawrence H. Matt