OAE/Charles Mackerras: Beethoven - Symphony No. 9

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Charles Mackerras ensure Beethoven's Ninth is given an exhilarating run through.

Composer: Beethoven
Repertoire: ‘Choral’ Symphony No.9

Artist: Amanda Roocroft, Fiona Janes, John Mark Ainsley, Neal Davies, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Charles Mackerras
Rating: 4/5

Genre: Orchestral

Label: Signum Classics SIGCD254

The Music: I recently witnessed a live ‘Choral’ which brought home to me that Beethoven’s final symphony still inhabits the frontiers of avant-garde composition. What do I mean by that? No composer has grappled so vigorously with the fundamental physics of harmony as Beethoven does in his first movement, then delivered on such a humane and joyful finale. This performance is not to be muddled with Charles Mackerras’s 2006 ‘official’ recording of Beethoven’s Ninth on Hyperion – although as both performances were recorded at the Edinburgh Festival some confusion is inevitable – this an archival 1994 performance, the occasional smudged orchestral entry and a slightly distant recording environment not detracting from Mackerras’s heartfelt and gutsy viewpoint. The highlight: a spectacularly well-judged second movement Scherzo, punctuated by insanely hard-hitting timpani eruptions, kept persistently edgy and thrillingly unstable throughout. Mackerras’s vocalists are top-notch too, and the long finale is brisk but plugged into seemingly inexhaustible momentum.

The Verdict: With state-of-the-nation recordings from Riccardo Chailly (Decca Classics, 2721) and Emmanuel Krivine (Naïve, V5258), no one’s going to consider this their ‘go to’ Beethoven Nine. But Mackerras’s account has drive and integrity in spades. A souvenir of a much-loved British conductor.

Want More? Alsoon Signum Classics (SIGCD 237) a fine live performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers.