This review first appeared in the print edition of Opera Canada.
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra’s Beethoven cycle with conductor Bruno Weil concludes with a recording of the 9th Symphony recorded live at Koerner Hall in February 2016. It’s very much a period instruments recording. This is most noticeable in the strings where the sound is softer than a modern orchestra with less “attack” and significantly less dynamic variation. No doubt the fairly small forces used reinforce this. There are slightly more than 50 instrumentalists in total. Overall, it’s an almost Mozartian sound.
Weil’s approach is interesting too. He’s generally pretty brisk but also tending towards rather even tempi. He doesn’t slow or speed up dramatically for emphasis as one might hear with most large orchestra recordings of Beethoven. This creates a rather compelling sense of structure and forward momentum.
Consistent with the period aesthetic, the soloists in the final movement sound very youthful. This is especially true of soprano Sigrid Plundrich. To some tastes her light, bright sound might seem thin but one is reminded that Beethoven himself used the eighteen-year-old Henriette Sontag for the first performance. The overall approach is consistent with the first three movements; i.e. it’s very structured with the soloists not being allowed to dictate the pace or emphasis. Backed up by very fine, disciplined singing by the excellent Tafelmusik Chamber Choir it creates an overall coherence that isn’t always manifest in the famous Ode to Joy.
The recording quality is generally very good though Weil’s super pianissimo introduction to the Ode almost disappears at normal listening volume. This might have been worth an engineering “tweak”.
Fans of Tafelmusik will not be disappointed with this record. If your tastes run more to the Berlin Philharmonic in this repertoire some recalibration will be required.