Last week I recommended a "historically-informed performance" (HIP) recording of Beethoven's 9th symphony. Now it's time to look at the "traditional" performances of the opus that are available.
To pick one recording out of the hundreds that are available as the greatest would be an act of folly, as any choice as "the definitive" performance would raise the hackles of almost everyone else who has an opinion on the matter. So please allow me to offer two recommendations from different eras from the history of recordings.
Herbert von Karajan recorded the entire symphonic cycle of Beethoven four (yes, 4!) times. It is generally accepted that the 1963 recordings are his best. Karajan uses spirited tempi where appropriate. Fine soloists shine in the finale of the Ninth.
Claudio Abbado's 2000 recording with the Berlin Philharmonic stands out among others in its boxed set of the complete symphonies. Abbado had the unenviable task of taking over the reigns of the Berlin Philharmonic after decades of leadership from Karajan. But he led the group admirably during his short tenure. The Berlin musicians play sharper than before and Abbado leads them in fresh interpretations of the works.