The Vienna Philharmonic is one of the world's leading recording orchestras. Ever since its very first recording of Beethoven's 6th Symphony under Franz Schalk in 1928, work in the studio has taken up a considerable part of its "free time", which is, on account of its duties at the Vienna State Opera, in any case very limited. There are not many major 20th-century conductors, many important works of the operatic and concert repertory, or indeed many important labels that do not figure in its large and comprehensive disco-graphy.
This disc represents Volume 2 of a set of the complete Beethoven symphonies currently in progress (the first volume, on the Talent label, included Symphonies 4 and 7 and was reviewed by Colin Anderson in 29:2). In a clumsily translated note Herreweghe refers to “nature” trumpets and “Baroque kettle drums with modern tuning”; these would appear to be the only concessions to period practice—by all accounts, the Royal Flemish orchestra employs modern instruments. This series would appear, then, to be comparable to the latest set conducted by Roger Norrington, with the orchestra of the Stuttgart Radio, on Hänssler.
Beethoven was Wilhelm Furtwängler’s guiding musical force. In his interpretations of the symphonies, the conductor generates irresistible dramatic momentum – and a constant sense of imaginative freshness – through the interrelationship of form, harmony, texture, rhythm and tempo. These recordings, all made in the late 1940s and early 1950s, in the Musikverein in Vienna and at concerts in London, Bayreuth and Stockholm, were newly remastered in 2010, bringing their sound more alive than ever before.
Hollow pathos is not his thing. From an artist like Mariss Jansons Friedrich Schiller’s Ode: “An die Freude” must receive a far deeper significance, which also fully encompasses the doubt and profound hope embodied in this text. And thus, in Jansons’s recording of the Ninth Symphony, the choral finale does not degenerate to mere superficial orgy of jubilation, but rather becomes a delicately balanced, wisely developed drama. On October 27, 2007, the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks played Beethoven’s Ninth in the presence of the Pope in the Vatican. The recording of this memorable concert is now being released in the highest audiophile recording quality as a multi-channel SACD.