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Beethoven: 9 Symphonien
Ludwig van Beethoven, Herbert von Karajan, Philharmonia Orchestra of London
Beethoven: 9 Symphonien
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (8) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (8) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (9) - Disc #3
  •  Track Listings (10) - Disc #4
  •  Track Listings (4) - Disc #5

These mono recordings from the early fifties (No. 8 is in stereo) testify to Herbert von Karajan's instinct for Beethoven's confrontational idiom, particularly in the 1st, 2nd, and 6th through 8th symphonies. The "Eroica" ...  more »


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These mono recordings from the early fifties (No. 8 is in stereo) testify to Herbert von Karajan's instinct for Beethoven's confrontational idiom, particularly in the 1st, 2nd, and 6th through 8th symphonies. The "Eroica" is weighty to the point of heavy-handed compared to the conductor's fleeter, more transparent Berlin remakes. Conversely, the London 5th and 9ths sport a blended proficiency far removed from the conductor's earlier, more inflected and involving Vienna versions. On balance, Karajan's 1963 Berlin cycle on DG remains first choice for its superior sound, more alluring orchestra, and cheaper price. --Jed Distler

CD Reviews

Dissenting Opinion
T. Beers | Arlington, Virginia United States | 04/21/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"It's probably true that the 1962-63 DG Berlin set is the best of Karajan's four(!) recorded Beethoven cycles. But there is more to these earlier mono Philharmonia performances than the other reviewers seem able to appreciate. As interpretations, the Philharmonia recordings certainly sound less massive and brilliant than any of their DG counterparts. But to compensate, the Philharmonia performances achieve a freshness and naturalness that eludes DG's later stereo sets. In a word, the Philharmonia performances sound less self-conscious than the DG recordings, where you're always very much aware that the performances are about "Herbert von Karajan Conducts Beethoven." The Italian composer Bruno Maderna once contemptuously referred to Karajan's "chocolate Beethoven," and it was the Berlin recordings that lay behind that judgment, not these much less fussy-sounding Philharmonia performances. One explanation for the difference: Karajan didn't "own" London's Philharmonia Orchestra the way he came to own the Berliners, and the English orchestra's very unique and un-Karajan sound -- with strings recessed & winds front and center -- tended to resist the conductor's extreme preference for smoothed-out textures and soft attacks. (And, by the way, the Philharmonia's wonderfully colored woodwinds consistently outclasses the Berliners, no matter which Berlin cycle you turn to for comparison.) Finally, the mono sound on these recordings (only the 8th symphony is stereo) is much better than the other reviewers indicate. The recordings were produced by EMI legend Walter Legge, whose engineers were famous for securing a natural and warm sound quality, even in mono. I don't hear any harshness or shallowness at all, just a very attractive, well-defined orchestral sound stage where instrumental choirs register, but without unnatural spotlighting. The "Eroica," Fourth and "Pastorale" symphonies are particularly satisfying examples of Legge's very musical approach to recording. There's no question but that the DG stereo recordings sound more modern and high-tech than the Philharmonia recordings. But whether they sound more musical is another question entirely."
Karajan's First Beethoven Cycle (1951-55) Still His Best
Mark E. Farrington | Albany, NY | 11/23/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Karajan at his freshest and most inspired, the Philharmonia in its absolute prime...THIS is the Beethoven cycle for a newcomer to classical music- there's not a weak link in it ! It's sensuous and warm when it needs to be; it's austere and noble when it needs to be; it's deep when it needs to be; and it's "fleet-of-foot" when it needs to be. Nothing goes wrong...

The FIRST is like Haydn, with a touch of insolence- a great start to the cycle. And contrary to what another reviewer wrote, the THIRD isn't heavy or lumpish AT ALL- it DANCES. The SECOND and FOURTH prove to be almost as "pastoral" as the Pastoral. The FIFTH is all MUSIC- not Schopenhauerian metaphysics. And unlike the 1962 Berlin re-make of the Pastoral (where the first two movements are unconscionably rushed, so that it isn't a weekend in the country, but a lunch break in the city park), THIS one is as fresh as a field of Mount Rainier lupines after the rain. The SEVENTH is the greatest since the 1936 NY Toscanini - without T's rushing of the scherzo. The EIGHTH is all Rossinian gas & gaiters. The NINTH carves a new path to the heart of this work: spirituality, not ideology- and yet with all the colors of a Florentine fresco. (For some, this betrays the "core" of the NINTH, but it's good to hear it done THIS way for a change.)

But the amazing thing is how HvK and the producer of this set, Walter Legge, were able to conjure up a South German/Viennese sound from those British strings...Not to mention the solo horn passages by Dennis Brain !!!

The 1990 transfers are fully adequate. Still, a re-do would be welcome (don't hold your breath, music lovers). Karajan's next Beethoven cycle, the ballyhooed 1961-62 Berlin, is of course better known, and one of the best in stereo. It was the first to be internationally MARKETED as a cycle (JFK was given a complimentary copy on his last Euro trip in June 1963). But it was NOT THE FIRST TO BE RECORDED AS A CYCLE- all hype to the contrary. (Two such cycles, the stereo Bruno Walter/Hollywood, and the Josef Krips/LSO, had already been completed.)

When you compare the '61-62 Berlin with this earlier Philharmonia set, a conscious cleverness...a certain "been there, done that," has already seeped into the music: "This is PRODUCTION- Just LISTEN to our execution!" True, in the early 60s, Karajan's notorious penchant for gloss & smoothness hadn't yet taken hold; but the Philharmonia cycle is the more musical, organic experience of Beethoven.

You can get greater depth in Furtwangler; greater fire in Toscanini; perhaps greater "organic" structuring in Jochum and greater nuancing with Monteux (MY two other favorites for Beethoven)...But the Karajan Philharmoinia cycle is an ideal one for entering Beethoven's multi-faceted realm of thought and feeling. You can't lose."
Francisco J. Muņoz | Santa Cruz, Bolivia | 02/28/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Este set de las nueve Sinfonías de Herbert Von Karajan es el primero que grabó el maestro, las versiones son de una extraordinaria calidad, donde se muestra la calidad interpretativa de las Sinfonías el Sr. Karajan, que después las perfeccionaría en sus versiones con los berlineses. Obviamente que el sonido no es de lo mejor, más tampoco es malo. Y para aquellos que nos gusta el ver la evolución de los grandes maestros este es un álbum para disfrutar. Los solistas que utiliza en la novena Sinfonía, son sencillamente sobresalientes."