Warren R. Davis | Haddonfield, NJ USA | 09/08/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The debate is endless over which version of Karajan's 9th's is the best, which just goes to show that he was one of the best. There is really no point in finding a winner. Those who swear by the 1963/64 Karajan/Berliners partnership are entitled to their thrill. I, too, enjoy the exuberance of that performance to this day. And as time went on, I eagerly anticipated the next Karajan-Beethoven cycle of the late 70s, with even better recording values, raising the bar again. To my mind, they never disappointed. Each subsequent recording added clarity and understanding: both with better technology making the sound more transparent, and with an evolving interpretation matched in every way by the maturation of the finest marriage between conductor and ensemble in our lifetimes. I just can't imagine a "better" performance of this symphony than in this last by Karajan and the BPO. Two of the last three by Furtwaengler (the war time BPO and the 1951 Bayreuth Festival), the live recordings of Klemperer and the Philharmonia (1957 and 1961, both now available on BBC Testament), and Bruno Walter's monaural NYPO and LPO and stereo Columbia Symphony Orchestra interpretations rank with each of the Karajan versions. To those so charged by the 1964 Karajan/Berlin version, they should perhaps explore the earlier Karajan/Philharmonia recording for Walter Legge (also Klemperer's producer) on EMI for similar, even quicker paced, thrills, albeit 1950's technology. If you want it all, buy them all. If you want just one of the Karajan/Berliners collaboration, then this is the one. You will be awestruck."
Good sound, but the performance is inferior to Karajan's ear
Alan Majeska | Bad Axe, MI, USA | 10/10/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I give this 4 stars because the performance is acceptable, but inferior to Karajan's earlier Beethoven 9ths recorded for DG with the Berlin Philharmonic: the 1962, considered by many to be his best; and the 1977, which is close to the 1962, if not just as good. The recorded sound in both of the earlier DG 9ths is better than this digital recording, which seems un-natural and cold, though technically perfect.
I can't say why I don't like this: II seems boring somehow - perhaps phrasing, and I like the 2nd movement to be played at a fast tempo, with forward drive and motion. III seems somehow artificial, and doesn't flow as did Karajan's earlier recordings. In IV, the four vocal soloists are all good, but not outstanding, and Karajan's tempos seem too driven to me. Perhaps Karajan's digital 9th is too much like Szell in some ways, but without relaxing where needed; Karajan's earlier 9ths had a little of Furtwangler or Bruno Walter in them, to make them more musical and warm. And both of the earlier 9ths have better recorded sound, which is more natural, rich and full.
I don't mean to sound too hard on Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) who was without a doubt one of the great 20th century conductors, and whose work with LPs and later Videodiscs sold many copies and acquainted music lovers around the world with great music. By contrast, Karajan is excellent in works such as "Wellington's Victory," "Gratulations Minuet", and "Ritterballet" all in Volume 3 of the DG Beethoven Edition.
For a Karajan Beethoven 9th, I would go with either the 1962 or 1977 recording, either as part of a complete cycle, or issued as individual discs (DG). For other Beethoven 9ths, check out Szell (Sony), Reiner/Chicago (RCA), Furtwangler/Philharmonia (Tahra, recorded live, August 1954 at Lucerne, Switzerland), or Bohm/Vienna (DG, 1970)."
A must have for fans of the 9th
J. Dabgotra | Los Angeles, CA | 11/11/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is Karajan's least popular of the four total recordings he did of this symphony, albeit it is the only digital recording. The 1963 recording is the most popular and, admittedly, my favorite of his four recordings as well. The 1977 recording is also popular. However, this recording is fantastic in its own ways, and I recommend a Beethoven or Karajan fan own this recording for several reasons.Being Karajan's only digital recording, he had the chance to develop his philosophy of sound engineering to the fullest. Now, many people hate this emphasis on smoothness and texture, but I think we should be more open-minded. I own roughly 25 performances of this symphony, and it is the unique performances that are most enlightening--those performances where the conductor took his own take. Gardiner and Furtwangler for example. And love it or hate it, Karajan put a lot of thought into his Beethoven, into the sound texture, the tempi, the balance, etc. The winds are rather low, the strings are smooth and powerful, the chorus is low, the brass is loud. A lot of thought went into the sound engineering, for good or ill. This is one great conductor's version of the greatest symphony composed, and it is for that reason why we should listen closely.The soloists aren't nearly as good as previous recordings, but they are fair, and the tenor, though a bit weak, does have a remarkable voice in my opinion. The dynamics are incredible but perhaps overemphasized, the clarity is wonderful (the timpini sound more real than previous Karajan recordings). Take, for example, the orchestral interlude in the fourth movement, before the climax. This is wonderfully done. Karajan speeds up the orchestral presentation of the Ode to Joy in the beginning of this movement when compared to his previous recordings, and I think this is a mistake. Overall, Karajan selects some of the best tempi, especially in the fourth movement. Though the chorus can hardly be heard at times, it allows the orchestra to be heard with greater strength and clarity. After the climax -- in the seid umschlugen and thereafter -- the singing and tempi are awe-inspiring. The tempi here are slower than his previous recordings, and it makes for a beautiful effect. Some think of Karajan as a cold Beethoven interpreter, but this recording at certain moments is more likely to inspire tears and feelings of the profound over Solti or others. The first movement is dark and pounding, but does not compare to the 1963 recording. The scherzo is much darker than his previous recordings."
A Superior Version
Brian Keltner | Denver, CO USA | 08/24/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Let's first note the baseline merits of this version of Beethoven's great Ninth: 1)Unsurpassed sound quality (DDD digital) and engineering; 2) Superior orchestra (the great Berlin Philharmonic) and vocals; 3) Superior conductor and interpreter of Germanic classical/romantic music, including Beethoven (Karajan); Superior recording label (Deutsche Grammophone). These are facts and beyond disputation. And attempting to dispute them is rather like insisting that the sky is green. Anyone familiar with the world of recorded classical music knows this. On these merits alone, is this version an easy top-drawer choice.
Above and beyond these merits, one enters the world of musical interpretation and personal preference when attempting to choose a "better" version of this piece. In reading the various reviews here and for other versions of the Ninth available on Amazon, I am amused that here a review rants about this or that conductor's interpretation--as if there is ONE correct interpretation of this piece, and, further, that the particular reviewer's OWN preference is the "best." Nonsense! And what egocentrism and musical snobbery! That this symphony can be and has been interpreted in different excellent ways by different excellent conductors in various recordings over the decades, is to me a statement about its epic artistic depth.
Having so written, I personally prefer this version of Karajan's interpretation (he's made several very good recordings). There is a distinct perpetual, highly measured, relentless--yet tightly controlled rather than flamboyant--intensity overall here that, I think, is a highly worthy rendering of what Beethoven himself intended when he chose its key of D minor. Review other pieces in that key (e.g., Bach's 'Tocatta and Fugue' and 'Dorian' tocatta and fugue organ pieces) and you'll see what I mean. No other conductor that I've come across has captured that style better than Karajan, for this symphony. It strikes me as intrinsically "Germanic" in the way one might think of "German Engineering" (perhaps it's Karajan's engineering background)--not Wagnerian, though Wagner himself drew inspiration from the Ode to Joy as a musical possibility in paving Romantic ground. Remember, Beethoven was bridging the symphonial gap between the classical and romantic forms by the time he wrote his Ninth in 1828, and so it is a hybrid. Yet the D minor key and a certain classical (as opposed to romantic) formalism remains the melodic and measured structure around which the entire symphony was built. And Karajan, I believe, captured this best on this particular recording. In fact I could argue that only Karajan, being Karajan, could so capture. But I won't. :-)"
I'm rewriting my review for this Karajan Ninth, I'm now givi
dv_forever | Michigan, USA | 11/05/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I was a bit too hasty to discredit this very fine recording by Karajan in my earlier review which I have now erased. The thing is, this recording is actually quite good. It is pretty much the same Karajan standard you are used to from earlier recordings of the 1960's and 1970's. The biggest advantage this Karajan Gold 9th has over it's predecessors is the digital sound which has great impact. The climaxes in the first movement especially are audacious, Karajan obviously going for broke. This has just about as much intensity in the first movement as Karajan's famous 1962 recording and trumps the 1977 version quite handily.
The famous 1962 performance was a tour-de-force, truly exceptional. The biggest problem with that record was it's dispersed, somewhat muzzy sound for the chorus in the finale, plus some of the instrumental detail, like the timpani, was obscured by Karajan's over emphasis on the strings. I think this was a fault of the recorded sound, not just a case of the famous Karajan string soup.
The famous 1977 performance was also great but suffers from sound problems of a different sort. There the sound was recorded up close and personal which gave you some gutsy timpani playing but lacked a natural acoustic, especially in the grand finale, which had the soloists and chorus claustophobically miked up close and shouting in your ears! Plus the performance lacked some of the sheer inspiration of the 1962 account.
This final Karajan 9th is digital and the sound is finally fixed up to a high standard, not the finest in the world, but certainly among the best I've heard for the 9th. Karajan's performance is full of power and maniacal energy in the first two movements with plenty of instrumental detail, timpani, brass, woodwinds, strings. The adagio is gorgeous too, so once again we fall on the finale, is it do or die? The sound is so much better here in the chorus than Karajan's earlier versions. The chorus is not distant or dispersed, nor is it up close and claustrophobic, it's set in a perfectly natural acoustic, sounds massive and extremely powerful, some of the climaxes will obliterate your stereo! The biggest hurdle here is the soloists, they are too lightweight compared to the great, starry names from the 1962 recording. Here on the digital version, Jose Van Dam isn't dark enough, he's not a bass. The soprano is wobbly, the mezzo is much better. Vinson Cole the tenor is too light and sounds like a young boy. Those are basically the demerits of this 9th, it is spectacular in many places and worth owning, not just for Karajan fans but all who care about this immortal Beethoven masterpiece. If you can live with the not so great soloists, you'll find this to be a fantastic recording.