Mystery-man Maazel takes on Beethoven
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 06/10/2006
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Nobody seems to know what makes Lorin Maazel tick. He was a child prodigy conductor in knee pants who grew up to make hundreds of recordings in his many incarnations as head of various orchestras, including Pittsbrugh (twice), Cleveland (where the musicians reportedly hated him), and the NY Phil., his current post (where the musicians like him but the critics don't). Few musicians have garnered as much vitriol and outright bafflement. This Beethoven Ninth from the Seventies with the Cleveland Orch. is a case in point.
In the first movement Maazel changes the note values of the first theme (did he discover a new score?) and underplays everything so drastically that any hint of mystery and struggle is leached out. The Scherzo proceeds fairly normally, alhtough it's hard to recover from the shock of the first movement's blandness. The Adagio moves impatiently, almost as briskly as in period performances--Maazel trips thorugh the daisies without finding the music's grandeur or depth of emotion.
His tendency to glide over the surface comes to a climax in the great choral finale. The dissonant stormy opening is smoothed out. When the eminent Finnish bass Martti Talvela enters with force and conviction, he sounds like he landed from another planet. But Maazel gets the music back to a dog-trot soon enough. The solo quartet is composed of great voices, but the blend is coarse and loud, with no suggestion that anybody knows what the words mean--if the theme is joy, you'd never know it from the accurate but neutral chorus, either. At 65 min., Maazel wraps up one of the fastest Beethoven Ninths on record before the period era, and one of the strangest.
David Saemann | 04/16/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Maazel's Ninth is a middle of the road endeavor. Tempos are moderate, and the expression is never exaggerated. What is truly distinctive about this version is the orchestral playing. This has to be the best played Ninth I've ever heard. The elegance and blend of the Cleveland Orchestra's sound is simply extraordinary. Even Vienna and Berlin seem like alsorans by comparison. The vocal quartet is brilliant, too, with an especially fine contribution from the men. To hear a voice as distinctive as Jon Vickers's in the Ninth is a luxury indeed. My only reason for not giving this disc five stars is the sound. It is lovely for the strings, but the chorus is slightly recessed, and the volume of the brass is diminished enough so that the balances with the rest of the orchestra seem somewhat feeble and artificial. Still, this is a Ninth that stays with you."