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BEETHOVEN'S NINTH: DOES IT MAKE IT TO CD? By Robert Hilburn / Times Staff Debunker and Chief Letter-Generator

September 06, 1987

The reissue of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on CD is cause for celebration among many of his fans. But, like last month's reissue of the Eighth Symphony, it raises the question of how well these works stand the test of time.

I hadn't listened to the Ninth for some time, so I decided to use the opportunity to "rediscover" the music.

It was a disappointment.

The music that once stirred a generation, and influenced composers afterward, seemed flat and indulgent. Ludwig Van was not working at his peak during this time, and while the newness of the music when it was first released may have masked the fact, being able to listen to the music without having to turn an album over on the turntable points out the changes and inconsistency in the music.

For example, what are referred to as "movements" turn out to be thematic elements only loosely connected. The transitions are not as smooth as those on the far superior Sixth or even the vastly overrated Fifth symphonies.

It is obvious now with hindsight and a critic's salary that Ludwig's creative and logical being were not at peace with each other. The manifestation of his deafness is physical evidence of the unrest of his body and soul.

Undoubtably, many Beethoven fans will go out and buy the CD. What they will hear is not the powerful, emotional, musical thunder that they remember from days gone past, but the weak, inconsistent doodlings of a man past his prime.

Listeners should also note: The Unfinished Symphony, which was also released Monday, is incomplete. Those expecting the full symphony will be disappointed by this recording.

Next week: I choose the Top 20 classical recordings of all time.


Sherman Oaks

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