Tacet, founded by Tonmeister AndreasSpreer, is a company with strong audio commitments—strong and highlypersonal, as is clear on this striking new release. On the one hand, Spreer has a continuing devotion to certain “old” technologies, inparticular tube equipment. On the other hand, he is not above radicalintervention in post-production. Thus, this Beethoven Ninth was recorded using tube microphones and amplifiers and with the orchestra in a moreor less normal seating configuration. But Tacet set down 32 tracks for the orchestral movements, 40 for the finale—and after the sessions were finished, the instruments were virtually relocated so that on the SACD’s multi-channel tracks we find ourselves in the middle of an unconventionally arranged circular ensemble. First violins, choralbasses, and the fourth horn flank us on the left; second violins, choralsopranos, and the first horn flank us on the right; violas, doublebasses, cellos, trumpets, tenors, and altos—as well as contrabassoon andpiccolo—are behind us; and the rest of the instruments and the vocalsoloists are spread out before us.
Whatever else you can say, this doesn’t make you feel like you’re at a concert—not only because the sounds come from unexpected directions, but also because, in the radical remixing, any sense of the hall is lost. Still, the engineering has two distinct advantages. First, the timbral quality of the instruments is exceptionally life-like: They sound like the real thing, even if they seem to be in an unnatural environment. Second, and perhaps more important, the wide separation of the instruments (the woodwinds are spread across the whole stage, rather than concentrated in two rows, for instance) gives the back and forth instrumental play exceptional prominence. Rarely has Beethoven’s inner billiards-player come across so clearly.
With an epic interpretation (the extreme case being Bernstein’s at the Berlin Wall), I doubt this kind of sound reproduction—which emphasizes space rather than mass—would serve. Fortunately, Rajski offers precisely the kind of springy performance that makes the most of the engineering. Tempos are exceptionally fleet—but the orchestra is small, rhythms are sharp, and sonorities are light, so the performance rarely sounds rushed, even in the finale, which dashes by in well under 22 minutes. Rajski also keeps the larger gestures in proportion. The outburst that opens the last movement stings more than it crushes; and the closing pages are uplifting but far from heaven-storming.p> Those looking for an Important Ninth, one that reflects the work’s monumental status in our culture, may find it all too insubstantial, even flimsy—especially the slow movement, which could arguably be more rapt at ist center. But if you can conceive of the Ninth as a final kick to Classicism, rather than a proclamation of the coming Romantic order, you should find this performance rewarding. The orchestra plays with zest and the singing certainly never gets in the way. Recommended for the adventurous. © 2017 Fanfare
Peter J. Rabinowitz