MENGELBERG Beethoven: Symphony No. 9

This album is included in the following sets:

MENGELBERG Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 "Choral" (1940) - PASC258

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Overview

BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 'Choral'
Recorded live in 1940, Amsterdam
Total duration: 68:47

To van der Sluys, soprano
Suze Luger,
alto
Louis van Tulder,
tenor
Willem Ravelli,
baritone
Amsterdam Toonkunst Chorus
Royal Oratorio Society
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
conductor Willem Mengelberg


This set contains the following albums:


Mengelberg's magnificent Beethoven Choral Symphony

Our Mengelberg Beethoven series continues in superb XR-remastered sound


Willem Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw Orchestra were recorded on a number of occasions by AVRO using high quality glass acetate discs, which produced significantly better results than those normally obtained by shellac discs of the era, with a much wider dynamic and frequency range than was usual at the time. Many of Mengelberg's AVRO recordings have long been available on LP and, later, CD, and their sonic advantages have been immediately clear to listeners for decades.

However, using standard flat replay systems to produce those LPs and CDs has only told perhaps half of the story - the recordings gently rolled off both higher and lower frequencies. Howver, these essential details are often still intact, buried in the recordings as if awaiting a remastering method capable of extracting them and restoring their original levels.

This is, of course, precisely what Pristine's XR remastering system excels at, and I've been able to bring out a pleasing amount of detail in the high treble, often extending right up to near 20kHz. At times this detail is astonishingly clean and clear, but elsewhere it is marred by a degree of hiss, requiring a delicate balance to be struck between the two.

Meanwhile the bottom end has seen considerable improvement, with a much fuller and richer sound than originally heard in the flat transfers. However much of the very lowest bass, below 100Hz, has been very poorly preserved where it exists at all, and these frequencies caused considerable problems in the restoration process. Indeed, much of what was present at these frequencies turned out to be rogue tones derived from interference at higher frequencies and had to be removed, along with a variety of unwanted bumps and thumps.

I was also required to carry out some judicious editing in the opening movement, where a small fragment of music was missing and a skip could be heard on my source discs which appeared to originate from the acetate masters. Fortunately I've been able to make a seamless repair by dropping in material from a repeated phrase, leaving the join hopefully undetectable.

Andrew Rose


  • BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral"
    Concert of 2nd May, 1940

    To van der Sluys, soprano
    Suze Luger,
    alto
    Louis van Tulder,
    tenor
    Willem Ravelli,
    baritone
    Amsterdam Toonkunst Chorus
    Royal Oratorio Society
    Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
    conductor Willem Mengelberg

Recorded in May 1940 at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam by AVRO Radio
Transfers from Philips LPs 6597 015 & 6597 016 from box set 6767 003

XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, October-November 2010
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Willem Mengelberg at the Concertgebouw

Total duration: 68:47

Fanfare Review

An indispensable release for anyone who loves this work

Once again, Pristine Audio turns its digital wizardry to the superb refurbishing of another deserving historical performance—in this case, one of the truly great performances of the Beethoven Ninth of all time. Compared to the original Philips issue the sound quality has been opened up and expanded, with richer highs and lows, less ambient noise of various sorts, and much greater clarity of instrumental detail, though until the opening of the finale the bass frequencies still remain a touch dry and less robust than would be ideal. Particularly arresting is the extraordinary instrumental color of the woodwinds and brass; while much of that is owed both to Mengelberg’s expert ear and the uniformity of the orchestral equipment (at the time, all members of the orchestra were required to obtain their instruments from a single famous Dutch maker), I also wonder if Mengelberg used any of Mahler’s retouchings of the orchestration or did some of his own. Hopefully some knowledgeable Fanfare reader or fellow critic will kindly enlighten us here.


My intense enthusiasm for this performance is all the more remarkable because Mengelberg is a conductor for whose work I generally have respect rather than empathy. Here, however, we have one of those imperishable readings of a monumental score with innumerable fine touches, both great and small, that repeatedly shatter complacently held conceptions and cause one to re-hear the work in a new and refreshing light. There is an incredible febrile energy to the first movement, powerful but not frantic as in some performances by Toscanini. The second movement is more measured (with exposition repeats taken) but not slow, and characterized by extraordinary rhythmic precision in all the instrumental parts; even the timpani does not turn blurry in the repeated dotted eighth-note rhythms. In the third movement the opening Adagio is expansive, whereas the succeeding Andante is rather brisk—much more so than is my usual preference, which is for Furtwängler—and yet absolutely convincing, with a fine buildup to the climactic trumpet fanfare; a few portamento slides appear in the strings toward the end. Only regarding the finale do I have minor reservations, as a few distracting idiosyncrasies appear. The rhythm becomes eccentrically stilted at the entrance of the vocal quartet; “Seid umschlungen, Millionen” is delivered with oddly clipped and over-emphatic phrasing, and then there is the notorious bizarre drop of the tempo to half speed for the last two bars of the movement. The chorus and soloists are sound if not stellar. To van der Sluys and Suze Luger are both competent; bass Willem Ravelli does well by his opening peroration; tenor Louis van Tulder does not possess the most ingratiating voice in timbre and lumbers a bit in the florid passagework at the end of his solo, but nonetheless acquits himself respectably. Still, the faults are but small and momentary blemishes in a broadly paced rendition that successfully weds monumentality to ecstatic fervor. One would never guess from this triumphant and joyful performance that only eight days later Nazi Germany would unleash its Blitzkrieg against hapless Holland and usher in its nightmarish occupation for four and a half years, with one of the musical casualties ultimately being a politically compromised Mengelberg.


No text for the choral finale is provided; program notes for the album are, per Pristine’s usual practice, posted on its website. While my register of potential candidates for the 2011 Want List is already overflowing with worthy entries, this is surely a leading contender—an indispensable release for anyone who loves this work and values immortal historic interpretations despite their sonic limitations.


James A. Altena

This article originally appeared in Issue 34:6 (July/Aug 2011) of Fanfare Magazine.