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Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 / Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Ludwig van Beethoven, Herbert von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 / Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Genre: Classical
 
  •  Track Listings (6) - Disc #1

No Description Available. Genre: Classical Music Media Format: Compact Disk Rating: Release Date: 23-JAN-1996

      
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Product Description
No Description Available.
Genre: Classical Music
Media Format: Compact Disk
Rating:
Release Date: 23-JAN-1996

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CD Reviews

Magnificently sung and played, but ...
cdsullivan@massed.net | Cambridge, MA USA | 04/08/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This is Herbert von Karajan's THIRD of FIVE recordings of Beethoven's last and probably greatest symphony. It boasts the finest solo quartet on disc, the finest orchestral playing, but in the end, something is missing. This recording gets off to a great start with an electrically intense, gloriously played first movement. Karajan's ideal orchestral texture is at the service of emotion and interpretation, as it is in all his greatest recordings - and not the other way around, as it is in almost all of his recordings from the last twenty years of his life. The scherzo is similarly intense, at a fast tempo, and similarly well played, but the recording is a handicap: the all-important timpani lack presence and volume. But the third movement is probably the weakest part of this recording. The adagio gets it off to an excellent start with playing of hushed beauty from the Berlin Philharmonic. But as soon as we enter the andante moderato section, the spell is broken. This section is marked "espressivo" and piano, but we get matter-of-fact playing somewhere between mezzo piano and mezzo forte. A comparison to Furtwängler's recording (EMI Great Recordings of the Century) reveals the hushed, flowing serenity that this movement lacks in Karajan's hands. But as soon as we reach the finale, started off by a particularly jolting dissonance, all troubles are forgotten for the moment. Karajan's direction does not become matter-of-fact as we are taken on what can easily seem like a whistle-stop highlights tour of the first three movements. But then, with the hushed entrance of the famous "Joy" theme, we run into trouble again. Karajan's tempo for this section strikes me as too fast, and the playing is not as quiet and meditative as it can and should be. When the Joy theme comes floating in on the high violins, Karajan totally misses the essential serene sweetness: again, compare Furtwängler. When the theme enters on the brass and timpani, Karajan's tempo is exactly right: but here is where a tempo fluctuation would have been better. Furtwängler, the master of tempo fluctuation, starts this passage out slowly and meditatively, brings the violins with tender beauty, and then accelerates in the few crescendoing bars before the big statement of the theme. However, once we hear the dissonance again, we are in among the best solo team on disc. Walter Berry's voice sounds unusually dark and rich, easily encompassing the taxing two octave span of the bass-baritone part, Waldemar Kmentt's tenor has power and security (if not the tonal beauty of Hopf for Furtwängler), Hilde Rössel-Majdan sings richly and with great authority ... but the crowning glory of this set is the incredibly beautiful voice of Gundula Janowitz. She was only twenty-five when this recording was made in October 1962, but she easily surpasses every other soprano in this part ever, including the magnificent Schwarzkopf for Furtwängler. She sings the most taxing, high stretches with amazing ease, where every other soprano sounds somewhat strained, and she still manages to float over the soloists and chorus easily. No matter how many recordings of this symphony you may have, this one is essential for Janowitz's sublime singing. The chorus, on the other hand, is decidedly less impressive, and is not helped by the strangely backward balance - no match for the Philharmonia Chorus on Klemperer's 1957 set. But Karajan is inspired, and he conducts the last fifteen minutes with intense, magisterial power.The next question is: how does it compare to other recordings? The answer is: it is very good, but not quite great. And I think the reason for this is that however intensely Karajan conducts, however magisterial the power of his conducting, he never achieves the inner fire, the spirituality, the incandescence of the truly great recordings of this symphony. There are only two recordings I have heard that have these qualities. The first is Klemperer's 1957 EMI recording, with the Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra (the orchestra is every bit as good as the BPO, and the chorus is absolutely magnificent), which is in excellent stereo, but is seriously handicapped by the disappointing quartet of soloists, and, less seriously, by Klemperer's plodding tempo for the scherzo. My first choice, therefore, will always be Furtwängler's incandescent 1951 account, which has an excellent if somewhat nervous chorus and orchestra, a superb solo quartet, second only to this quartet, and, above all, Furtwängler himself, who is genuinely, greatly inspired, and communicates the radiant glory of this music with an Olympian yet still very human spirituality. However, it is in somewhat dry mono sound, with the chorus quite backwardly balanced, in addition to the audience noises (it was recorded at the concert that reopened the Bayreuth Festival on July 29, 1951). So my recommendation depends on whether you can take mono sound. If it is acceptable at all, get the Furtwängler immediately. If you must have stereo, take your pick between Klemperer and Karajan. Happy listening!"
My favorite version by far
Joey Joe Joe Jr. Shabadoo | Boston, MA USA | 11/16/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"There are an awful lot of Karajan-haters out there. What I have noticed is criticisms generally range from "he was too smooth with his sounds, especially in his later years" to "The performance left me cold, it was too perfect" to "He was a Nazi, you knew that, right?" Well, I find most of these criticisms either irrelevant or naive. For all I know, old HvK may well have been a Nazi, but it certainly does not affect my opinion of his conducting, just like such things don't stop people from buying Mercedes-Benzes or Volkswagens. As for the other criticisms concerning smoothness, unity of sound and perfect execution, I ask you this: would you rather get a flavor of the conductor, or that of the composer? With overly interpretive conductors, you typically get a result that has the conductor's fingerprints in every nook and cranny, thus tarnishing the original intentions of the composer. This is not to say that Karajan has never altered tempo for his own aims at sound, but I like that Karajan let's it flow while engaged in a section, not constantly re-adjusting tempos, therefor not leaving his own stool behind, like so many conductors do (especially modern ones).

... anyways, about the music, this may well be the finest performance of this work. The tempi are furious in the opening and scherzo, as they should be. The hair on the back of my neck stands on end for the majority of the first two movements- we're talking Toscanini-fast tempi here. As for the slow movement, it is admirably pulled off if not quite as engaging as the preceding movements. In the finale, we have a vocal quartet which remains unsurpassed since, and a resultant finale that ranks among the all-time greats in terms of choice of tempi and overall performance execution. The BPO plays beautifully as well, these performances come from that orchestra's heyday. Only Solti's 1971 reading (with another fabulous quartet) comes close. Overall, there is not a better ninth in my opinion, where Karajan nails three of the movements and submits a rock-solid and effective slow movement, even if it is not as powerful as the others.

I have heard many 9ths, ranging from Bohm (1971), Abbado (1985, 1999), Bernstein (1978), Solti (1971), Karajan (1962, 1977, and 1982), Giulini (1972?), Szell (1962), Wand (1984), Fricsay (1958), Klemperer, Toscanini and Furtwangler...but for a combination of interpretation, drama and sound, this is my choice. Fricsay runs 2nd, and Solti 3rd. And I mean no disrespect to the Klemperer, the Toscanini or the Furtwangler, but that mono/early stereo sound is just AWFUL and really detracts from my experience.
"
Highest rating (and a few corrections)
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 09/28/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"By any measure this is one of the greatest Beethoven Ninths on disc. The quality of the interpretation hasn't been well stated in the reviews here, however.

Karajan in 1962 wanted to perform Beethoven in a modern way compared to the overtly spiritual, often very slow, heavy, and rubato-laden style of the past in Germany. This recording is a lyrical Ninth in many ways: the entire slow movement is lightly voiced and songful, and in the last movement Karajan takes the vocal line faster and with more smoothness, less effort than usual.

By comparison, Karajan wasn't as hectically fast or intense as Toscanini, not as straight-faced and diect as Weingartner, not as willful and overplayed as Stokowski, not as granitic and solemn as Klemperer. He was finding his own way, and being the master conductor of the age, his aproach is fascinating in every bar.

The overall impression is a natural arc moving from the mystery of the opening bars to the palpable joy and reverence of the finale. In this respect his 1962 Ninth is unique.

Now as to the sound. The chorus is very large and remotely placed, which can make it sound diffuse but not murky or muffled as some have claimed. The winds are recorded forward of the strings rather than in their midst. As with many mono recordings, the mike placement gives the perspective, not of a front-row seat, much less a conductor's x-ray perspective, but a middle-row--this means that there is much less highlighting of solos than we are used to from digital recordings and multi-microphones. The blending of voices is more obvious here, especially in the woodwinds.

That's all I wanted to point out. Whether this Ninth is the "greatest" is a bit of a pointless contest, but its excellence is undeniable. Five stars well deserved."