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Symphony No. 9

3.5 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Audio CD, October 2, 2007
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

One of the world's elite symphonic ensembles is recording again after a hiatus of almost seven years, and DG is its proud partner. The Cleveland Orchestra, long regarded as one of today's pre-eminent ensembles, is releasing its recent performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, recorded under the baton of its music director, Franz Welser-Möst, at their January 2007 concert in Severance Hall. In the symphony's finale, The Cleveland Orchestra is joined by The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and four outstanding vocalists, all with connections to DG: Measha Brueggergosman, whose solo project "Surprise!" will be released on October 9th. She sings alongside the celebrated German bass, René Pape, another DG exclusive artist. Two American singers complete the line-up: mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor, featured in DG's recording of Osvaldo Golijov's opera Ainadamar, and Frank Lopardo, one of today's most distinguished lyric tenors. Franz Welser-Möst is now in his fifth season as The Cleveland Orchestra's music director and his second season as the General Music Director of the Zurich Opera.

Review

"One would expect Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra to put on an impressive display in the music of Beethoven. But the soaring, eloquent performance heard Friday night was remarkable even by the Clevelander's elevated reputation." -- The Miami Herald
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Product Details

  • Performer: Measha Brueggergosman, Kelley O'Connor, Frank Lopardo, René Pape
  • Orchestra: Cleveland Orchestra
  • Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst
  • Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Audio CD (October 2, 2007)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Deutsche Grammophon
  • ASIN: B000UNMUDW
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #279,782 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ryan Richards on October 10, 2007
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.
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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."
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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.
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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.
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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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