Remember that moment when Christian Bale hears the opening notes to Beethoven’s Nr. 9 (“Chorale”) Symphony in Equilibrium and he simply drops an Eiffle Tower snow globe, mouth agape? No? Wow, go watch it, it’s a great movie. Bale is so moved because that is the first piece of music he has ever heard in his life and he is viscerally struck by the stark beauty of it.
I had a bit of that moment listening to Simon Rattle conduct the Vienna Philharmonic in the same piece. This time, however, it was in the lush strings in the 4th movement Allegro Assai, think very joyful, just before the introduction to what we’ve come to think of as “Ode to Joy”. The sound is so rich, it completely brought me out of my reverie. I then started to focus on the controlled pull in the music before the big sound really comes. The fusion of Simon Rattle’s and Beethoven’s dramatic flairs really pay dividends here as you are moved from lush but controlled sound to the big brass and voice introduction to “Ode to Joy”.
So I was taken by surprise in this particular recording. Some apparently think that Mr. Rattle doesn’t have the Teutonic sensibility needed for Beethoven. They suggest that British sensibilities are out of touch with the warmth and ardor of this Germanic masterpiece. I’m not going to argue the point; I’ll simply say this recording is beautifully executed, conveys emotional impact, and lays the emphasis in all the right places. Does it hold back more than some? Probably. Is it mechanical? Not even close.
From its famous opening to the chorus singing “Ode to Joy”, Mr. Rattle, along with the Vienna Philharmonic, draws us into a soundscape describing hope, fear, love, loss, and, yes, joy. With light deft touches, layered lush strings and brass clarion calls to join in, we’re brought on a wonderful musical journey. The chorus and singers perform their craft admirably.
Here’s a little taste of Mr. Rattle performing the same piece with the Berlin Philharmonic:
I’m delighted to have this recording join my collection. It stands up nicely with Herbert Von Karajan’s recording with the Berlin Philharmonic, albeit from a different era. Here it becomes a matter of taste. While I love von Karajan (the one I’m referencing is the ’84 DG “digital gold” recording which I like due to the great sound engineering, although the ’63 is cherished as well), there are times it seems a bit heavy handed. There are times Mr. Rattle seems a bit understated. Maybe I lack the Teutonic passion and musical wisdom of some, but both are great. Simon Rattle’s version stands tall and, at moments, takes your breath away.