Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Thomas Quasthoff, Ludwig van Beethoven, Claudio Abbado|
Beethoven: The Symphonies [Box Set]
An unexpected triumph
P. Hope | Worcestershire | 12/21/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Claudio Abbado recorded a complete Beethoven symphony cycle with the Berlin Philharmonic in 2000 in Berlin. For all its fast tempi and crisp articulation, much of it struck me as rather grey and dispassionate. There were some good points - fine accounts of symphonies 1, 2, 4 and 9 in particular - but overall it was disappointing. This 'new' set was mostly recorded just one year later, taken from live performances in Rome, but with the earlier Berlin account of the ninth retained.
Abbado's interpretations seem to have evolved rather a lot in such a short space of time. Tempi are still brisk, but Abbado now gives the music room to breath. In the sleeve notes, the conductor talks about developing more of a shared view with his orchestra. That's readily apparent in the performances. Where before we had an orchestra playing all the notes very proficiently, now there's much more of a sense of an ensemble making music together.
What distinguishes this set from almost every other complete cycle is its remarkable consistency. There isn't a single disappointment amongst the nine. The style is very much in keeping with the current mainstream - played on modern instruments but with transparent textures and lively tempi. Abbado reveals details without expressive point-making, and allows the music to unfold naturally.
There are, of course, many great accounts of individual symphonies by other artists. But if you are looking for a complete cycle by one orchestra and conductor, Abbado's has to be one of the top recommendations. For me, first choice is between this set and Osmo Vänskä's recently completed cycle. Vänskä's is perhaps the more thought-provoking of the two, and it is better recorded, while Abbado's sounds more spontaneous and is conveniently and economically packaged (Vänskä's currently being available only on five separate CDs). If your budget permits, buy both."
Abbado's "new" Beethoven gives way to "newer" and better
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 06/21/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It's fairly extraordinary when a conductor apologizes for his performance and replaces it with better. But that's virtually the case with Claudio Abbado's new Beethoven symphony cycle, which replaces his former one with the Berliners from 2000. A year later Abbado made a live cycle from Rome on DVD, and this is the audio portion of those readings. DG claims on the label that the earlier set will no longer be available (it hasn't disappeared from Amazon, however).
What has changed between 2000 and 2001? To start with the most positive, Abbado has backed off from too-brisk tempos here and there. For example, the Eroica has gained a couple of minutes, for the better. More importantly, he has decided to dig in more. The earlier accounts felt like once-over-lightly much of the time. (Some parts of the new set still do, such as the slow movement of the Pastorale, which races past the brook in a sports car.) Finally, the sound has improved, bringing the wind soloists to the fore, whereas in the earlier cycle the distant microphone placement and unfocused orchestral sound added to a sense of detachment that made the whole set musically unsatisfying.
Did Abbado suddenly become a much better Beethoven conductor? I wouldn't say that. His tempos are still brisk in the manner of Osmo Vanska, Paavo Jarvi, and Bernard Haitink in his LSO Live cycle. It's the last who provides the best comparison. Haitink, like Abbado, has never been profound in Beethoven, and speeding up the proceedings doesn't bring a sea change. But both conductors seem interested in Beethoven after all these years. Their younger rivals have more drastic and controversial things to say, which seems only natural. I wish I could report that the live concert setting in Rome galvanized Abbado to more passionate readings, but that's not the case. For better or worse, once the Berlin Phil. has perfected a performance, spontaneous impulses don't enter the picture.
Abbado's ace under the table is the magnificent execution and polished aplomb of his orchestra. I'm not sure aplomb is a quality I value in Beethoven; Karajan carried it too far in his latter years. Like him, Abbado doesn't view Beethoven as a rugged individualist and volcanic revolutionary. Since I do, we can't meet eye to eye here. But there are enough virtues in this new cycle that it deserves high marks -- it's decidedly better than the earlier cycle it is pushing off the shelf."
Better than most of Abbado's work
P. Weber | Los Angeles | 07/24/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I agree with most of what the previews reviews already said about this set. Overall it's very good if you like Abbado's approach to Beethoven - light and breezy and transparent. Abbado uses a smaller orchestra for most of these works, so you'll have to adjust to the smaller, less weighty sound than say, Gunter Wand's excellent set. One minor quibble is that Abbado, or the engineers, don't provide enough low end for my taste. The bass is a little weak on these recordings, which may be part of Abbado's approach. That aside, I like these performances a lot. One point where this set scores higher than Vanska is that this set doesn't suffer from Vanska's obsession with soft dynamics. In the Vanska recordings the pianissimos are so low, the recording drops down to almost nothing. Abbado has better dynamics for home listening. A few of Abbado's tempos are pretty fast (last movements of 4 & 7 for example) but they are exciting, and I think Beethoven's music can handle it. I'm not an Abbado fan by any means, but this set is better than most of his uneven work. There are some single performances that I may slightly prefer to Abbado, but this set will join Wand and Mackerras's first set on my shelf."