Two sayings come to mind when one thinks of the Beethoven Seventh: Wagner described it as the 'Apotheosis of the Dance' whereas Weber declared that his fellow composer was nuthouse-bound on the evidence of the first movement. This performance belies and supports these statements.
`Sitting down the back of the bus and all', it's easy to forget this October 1976 performance of the Seventh. Its rival in the '63 set is stellar whereas its digital successor was lampooned for poorly articulated rhythms (or so it is alleged) in the finale. Be that as it may, this performance warrants airtime. To my mind, it is the best of the trio: it broadcasts why this partnership was famous to the ends of the earth.
One of Karajan's assets as a conductor was his ability to evoke the adrenaline of a live concert in a studio. This Seventh is a prime example: elation is on tap. To the last man, Berlin Philharmonic play as if hooked up to the grid. Blake's Maxim, 'Energy is Eternal Delight' finds its ultimate expression here in the opening Poco sostenuto - Vivace. The Slow Movement could almost be described as a wartime performance - that's how tragic it is. The final two movements are superlatively conceived and executed. Above all, this performance is a celebration of plenitude: a Beethoven who bestrides the earth like a colossus. Therein lies the madness: how did Beethoven carry around this creation in his head whilst he went about his day-to-day chores in Vienna? Worse still, how does a suburbanite listen to it nowadays? It's not as if we live in the Athens of Pericles.
Here, if the dance element is overshadowed by the drama, the virtuosity on display - married to vision - are more than compensatory. And being a recusant, I much prefer the old edition over the newly revised Barenheiter; it flows more organically.
The Second is also beautifully paced. While it is an early work, it can support the weight of such an interpretation. Again, the Berliners play it freshly and with immense horsepower.
Deutsche Grammophon has hitherto failed to remaster the entire '77 cycle, the exceptions being 5, 6 and 9 Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 5, 6 & 9. Even so, in this instance the Yellow Label should not be accused of penny-pinching: the late '80s remastering was so damned successful, why not direct efforts elsewhere? Indeed, this disc sounds better than the original LPs.
There are plenty of 'skim milk' Beethoven Sevenths in circulation - ho hum. This is full fat - joyfully, defiantly and elatedly so.