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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Karajan's Classic Beethoven Cycle: From The Firebrand Years
Beethoven Symphonies 1 - 9. Berliner Philharmoniker and the Wiener Singverein. With Gundula Janowitz, Waldemar Kmentt, Hilde Rossel-Majden and Walter Berry. Conducted by Herbert von Karajan. Recorded 1962 to 1963. Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft.

This cycle is a classic. Taken as a whole it is very impressive, but I think in general Karajan made...
Published on 20 Mar 2012 by Ryan Kernaghan

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3 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Difficult
When this set first came out in early 60's, it must have been jaw-dropping! It's beautifully recorded and we'd probably never heard Beethoven like this before. But this is a two-edged sword; if only the interpretations were as good. Even allowing for the timing constraints of vinyl, the tempi are just too fast. It all sounds as if everybody had to be somewhere else. But...
Published on 29 Dec 2011 by Peter CLARK


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Karajan's Classic Beethoven Cycle: From The Firebrand Years, 20 Mar 2012
This review is from: Beethoven: 9 Symphonies (Audio CD)
Beethoven Symphonies 1 - 9. Berliner Philharmoniker and the Wiener Singverein. With Gundula Janowitz, Waldemar Kmentt, Hilde Rossel-Majden and Walter Berry. Conducted by Herbert von Karajan. Recorded 1962 to 1963. Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft.

This cycle is a classic. Taken as a whole it is very impressive, but I think in general Karajan made interpretations of more depth in his 1970s cycle. However, there is a ruggedness and vitality to these recordings that he didn't quite capture in the later cycle. I think this is more representative of Karajan's more ferocious conducting that characterised some of his earlier recordings (hence my title of the 'firebrand' years). The later priority is for seamless and beautiful playing which has its own reward.

Here is my own response to each interpretation:

No. 1: A beautifully polished and thoughtfully paced reading. Karajan does not rush this symphony. Indeed, this is perhaps one of the most concentrated performances on record of the First Symphony.

No. 2: Very good - quite homogenous playing.

No. 3: This version of the Eroica is one of the high-points of this celebrated cycle. It combines urbanity (in outstanding playing typical of the Berliners) with a good deal of ruggedness. The four movements never seem glossy or artificial and the playing is quite driven throughout. The second movement is played superbly, but perhaps a little less convincing and 'deep' than Karajan's even greater analogue recording from the seventies, which is even more powerful. Tempi are broad in this recording, whilst Karajan's later version is much faster.

No. 4: This is one of the highlights of the cycle, with exceptionally lush and atmospheric conducting. The sound is incredibly vivid on both LP and CD.

No. 5: This interpretation has an irresistible vitality to it. Whilst I would prefer a rugged and tragic view with slow tempi for the first movement, the last three movements of this work really come alive in Karajan's hands. What really stands out from the beautiful playing of the orchestra is the horn playing which is quite forceful at times. At the end of the day though, I would appreciate a little more dynamic contrast in the finale. Still, a very enjoyable Fifth.

No. 6: The 1962 Pastoral received such a bad and enduring press that Karajan has never really been associated with the symphony ever since. This is despite a broader and more complete Sixth in the 1970s. Still, this recording was the first to which I really 'listened' and, despite the critics, I find it a very dramatic and beautifully taut reading, not 'overly' taut as the Penguin suggests. The orchestra shows incredible verve and power in the storm sequence and the piercing tone of the piccolo in that movement alone is worth hearing for the awesome playing of the instrument.

No. 7: What a fantastic performance of the Seventh this is - very intense, dramatic and the finale really bounces along as it should.

No. 8: This is a rhythmically pointed, wonderfully played account. Absolutely charming.

No. 9: The 1963 recording is a famous interpretation of this endlessly amazing work. It receives a very dramatic, if overly aggressive at times, reading under Karajan at this stage in his career. However, the finale really blossoms (enhanced by fantastic singing by the tenor Waldemar Kmentt and baritone Walter Berry, Janowitz is also beautiful, if sounding a little stretched by the high writing). In the last part, however, I felt the recording had a touch of routine and the final bars don't have the visceral excitement that they should.

Overall, then, a very fine cycle and a famous achievement which deserves a place in every serious record collector's collection. It is also a solid representation of each Beethoven symphony - perhaps even qualifying as a a reference set. First time collectors will be particularly well served. But I don't think it's Karajan's best Beethoven cycle. The 1977 cycle is its superior in many important respects. Buy both and decide for yourselves!
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A personal comparison of various recordings of Beethoven's symphonies, 28 Oct 2009
By 
Rasmus Oerndrup (Copenhagen, Denmark) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beethoven: 9 Symphonies (Audio CD)
In this review I will try to compare various complete recordings of Beethoven's nine symphonies plus Carlos Kleiber's CD with Symphonies number 5 and 7 (on DG). Concerning Carlos Kleiber it is easily done: I will advice anybody who appreciates Beethoven (or who think they might appreciate Beethoven) to buy his CD. I doubt you can find better versions of those two works. When I mention Karajan in this review I refer only to his first complete set of Beethoven's symphonies for DG from 1963 with the Berliner Philharmoniker. The other complete sets I will write about are: Osmo Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra (Bis), Jos van Immerseel and Anima Eterna (Zig Zag), David Zinman and Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich (Arte Nova), Herbert Blomstedt and Staatskapelle Dresden (Brilliant). All orchestras mentioned here perform on modern instruments except Immerseel's Anima Eterna.

I will go through the symphonies one by one and give short comments on the various recordings. I will start in reverse order since I guess most people will be interested in the late symphonies primarily.

Karajan plays a terrific and grand 9th ("Choral") - his wild gestures and colourful style fit the work well - he is a true romantic in the first romantic symphony in musical history. It is the only 9th I have heard in which all the movements really shine, for instance in Vanska's recording only the two last movements really work for me, but then again those two are amazing - you can hear every polyphonic detail in the choral finale. Immerseel gives us a good "slim" 9th (only 33 musicians in the orchestra which though is 9 more than in the other symphonies). Zinman's recording lacks verve and excitement in the two first movements, but his adagio is pretty and the finale is gripping. A special feature in Zinman's 9th is that he plays it with Beethoven's original general pause in bar 747. Blomstedt plays a vibrant 9th with a beautiful truly romantic adagio (16+ minutes long like Karajan's) and a glorious finale. Thomas Dausgaard with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra Örebro (on Simax as part of a complete recording of Beethoven's orchestral music which I am NOT reviewing here) is - as a whole - the best recent (2009) 9th I have heard, but text and translation of Schiller's ode are not included in the booklet. Some might say that the scherzo in Dausgaard's hands is too aggressive, but I find it fresh and spirited.

Zinman gives you a good 7th but not a great one. The winning set in the 7th is no doubt Immerseel's who's ravishing exhilarating account is full of verve and vigour. Richard Wagner described this symphony as "the apotheosis of dance" and he had/has a point: This is a symphony that demands a "mobile" orchestra - a dancing orchestra. And here Immerseel and Anima Eterna have the advantage of a smaller orchestra that can really dance. Vanska's version of the 7th really disappointed me. It is simply boring - he plays it too slowly. But if you buy Carlos Kleiber's 7th in addition to Vanska's complete cycle you will be doing just fine. What I have said about the 7th also could be said about the 8th - again Immerseel's interpretation is the more lively. But I don't think you will be disappointed in this symphony with either Karajan, Zinman, Vanska or Blomstedt. Karajan's 7th and 8th are highlights of his set.

Karajan's approach is much too heavy for the "Pastoral" (the 6th Symphony). Same thing can be said about Blomstedt's. Vanska's is the best version of this light-hearted symphony (a rare example of program music in Beethoven's oeuvre). Vanska's "Scene by the brook" (the title of the 2nd movement) has a beautiful, tranquil and romantic atmosphere that I find very appealing. I didn't like the "Pastoral" before I heard Vanska conduct it. "The merry gathering of the country folk" is as merry as it should be and "Thunder Storm" really sounds like thunder. Zinman isn't bad in this one either, the 1st movement in particular conveys the "Pleasant, cheerful feelings which awaken in people on arrival in the country" to the listener.

In the first movement of the famous 5th Immerseel plays very fast (maybe too fast) and takes no prisoners. It is a very extreme approach, but it does appeal to me somehow especially because the rest of the symphony seems to follow as a logic conclusion. Vanska plays it slower and gives you time to both try to feel and figure out what Beethoven intended with this work. Karajan might be overdoing it a little bit in the 5th, but it is certainly not boring. Zinman plays the fast movements almost as fast as Immerseel and presents a decent 5th, although I miss some grandeur when it should reach its climax in the 4th movement.

I am not very enthusiastic about Beethoven's 4th Symphony, but maybe I just haven't listened to it enough to get to know it better. The recording I will choose to get to know it better will probably be Vanska's.
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In the 3rd Symphony ("Eroica") Vanska slowly builds up tension creating a truly heroic feeling - definitely my favourite.

The 1st and 2nd Symphonies are not core repertoire Beethoven and I suppose most performers don't really care too much about them. At least when I listen to them they only really make sense and appeal to me in the hands of Osmo Vanska.

I almost forgot about Herbert Blomstedt. Maybe because his cycle is forgettable in the sense that it just repeats an approach similar to Karajan's.

When it comes to sound Anima Eterna's set is definitely the winner. Not only because it has the best recording technique, but also because the small orchestra enables you to hear every single instrument in the orchestra. With larger orchestras the sound becomes somewhat blurred and you can't tell which instruments are playing what. As I said the Karajan set discussed here was recorded in 1963. Blomstedt's is from the late `70s (the 9th from 1980), Zinman's is from the `90s, Immerseel's and Vanska's were both recorded in the beginning of the new millennium and are of course superior in terms of sound quality.

So my recommendation: Jos van Immerseel with Anima Eterna is the best overall set, but if you don't like the idea of period instruments and a small ensemble choose Osmo Vanska with the Minnesota Orchestra. In addition to that buy Carlos Kleiber's 5th and 7th and Karajan's or Dausgaard's 9th.
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3 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Difficult, 29 Dec 2011
By 
Peter CLARK (Epsom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beethoven: 9 Symphonies (Audio CD)
When this set first came out in early 60's, it must have been jaw-dropping! It's beautifully recorded and we'd probably never heard Beethoven like this before. But this is a two-edged sword; if only the interpretations were as good. Even allowing for the timing constraints of vinyl, the tempi are just too fast. It all sounds as if everybody had to be somewhere else. But get this one if you are going to get any of the Karajan sets.
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