FLEX WEINGARTNER'S 1935 recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera Chorus, was for several years the only version of that work available on records, and no one felt any need for another. Everything about that performance seemed so right, so fulfilling, so consummate and complete, that those of us who grew up with it were not so much impressed by the greatness of Weingarner as exhilarated by the miracle of Beethoven. Well into the microgroove era, this remained the standard by which other Ninths were measured - and always, to some degree, found wanting.
The solo quartet comprised soprano Luise Helletsgruber (prominent in Fritz Busch's early Glyndebourne productions), contralto Rosette Anday, tenor Georg Maikl and the great basso Richard Mayr, remembered as the incomparable Baron Ochs. The Ninth was Mayr's last recording, made two months before he died at the age of 58; the simple dignity and warmth of his recitative and solo, as free of posturing as of sentimentalizing, made of an unforgettable valedictory.
Of course, Weingartner's approach to the whole symphony is describable in the same terms. There is nothing at all self-consciously ceremonial or "consecrational" in it: it was straightforward, somewhat brisker in the finale than most subsequent recorded versions, uniform of rhythm, free of gear-shifting effects, producing an impression of great spontaneity and always great, unlabored intensity.
The sound was not the best. The recording was made with a type of carbon microphone that was out of date even then, but perhaps the very murkiness added a bit to the mysyique - as when the calming gestures appear amid the stomy passages of the first movement, when the golden horn emerges from the vaguely defined background in the slow movement, or the voices come forward in the glorious finale.
Back in 1951 Columbia Records, which had issued a 11 the Weingartner recordings of the Beethoven symphonies on 78s, reissued them on LP. Although the American company had not originated any of the recordings, all the transfers were made in its won laboratories, and they were remarkably successful; the two-disc set of the Eighth and Ninth, undertaken with special care, was a marvel when it appeared as SL-165. After Columiba and its English namesake came to a parting of the ways in 1953 (English Columbia reconrdings then began appearing here on the Angel label) some of the Weingartner material was retained for a while, but eventually the rights had to be returned to EMI - and the Ninth was in limbo until just now. During the last few years Vox has been issuing a number of historical recordings from EMI in its Turnabout Historical Series. We've had Schnabel's Mozart, Bruno Walter's Mahler, Mozart and Haydn, Beecham's Mozart and Sibelius, and a Johann Strauss collection played by the Vienna Philharmonic under several distinguished conductors. Now, at last, we have the Weingartner Ninth, again with the Eighth on side 4, in a new two-disc reissue (Turnabout THS-65076/77).
The transfer this time was made by EMI itself, which supplied its won tapes to Vox. Surprisingly, the English engineers did less well than American Columbia's did 25 years earlier: the sound is wirier and less full than in the earlier transfer, but Weingartner's Ninth does make itself heard - and felt. This is not the sort of thing to use in showing off audio equipment, but it still offers insights into this magnificent work which may not be quite paralleled in any other reading. It is worth of a place in any collection beside such outstanding modern recordings of the Ninth as those of Seiji Ozawa (Philips 6747.119) and Karl Boehmn (DG2707.073).