on 18 July 2009
Tchaikovsky's last three symphonies are here performed by the Berliner Philharmonker at the very top of their game under the baton of Hebert von Karajan. Karajan was a sometimes controversial figure who nevertheless transformed the image and sound of one of the world's great orchestras.
He had a special affinity with Tchaikovsky's music and these are quite exceptional performances. If you like your Tchaikovsky to sound more Russian, you may prefer the Leningrad Phil's performances under Mavrinsky, but for me this is some of the best Tchaikovsky playing I have heard.
on 18 March 2013
Is it time for a reappraisal of the work of Herbie Karajan?
People who have bought into the myth of his over-streamlined and beautified orchestral surfaces should hear this.
This is an extraordinary, blistering account of the Tchaik sixth which leaps out of the speakers with frightening, white hot urgency and pins you to your chair from the first bar to the last. The recording quality matches the wildness of the reading.
Hair raising stuff!
I'm not quite sure why Karajan felt such an affinity with these later Tchaikovsky symphonies, to the extent that he made half a dozen studio recordings of them over his long career but he certainly had a way with Russian music, as evinced by his Mussorgsky "Boris Godunov" and "Pictures", the live Shostakovich Tenth Symphony that he took to Moscow and his "Sheherezade". Perhaps Tchaikovsky's orchestration and overt emotionalism allowed him to exploit both the virtuosity of his orchestras and the showman side of his personality; certainly you could not hear better playing than that of the greatest orchestra in the world in 1971 in the most grateful acoustics provided by the recording location of the Jesus-Christus-Kirche; the BPO purr like tigers before applying serious reserves of power in the big moments.
The 2007 remastering has polished what was already superb analogue sound, preferable to any other set for its depth and warmth. There is a glorious sweep to Karajan's way with these works: in the opening movement of the Fourth we waltz blithely into oblivion before being consumed by the manic, screaming power of the last minute. The silky smoothness of the horn solo in the opening of the Fifth is emulated nowhere else but it is the performance of the Sixth which is the real marvel: how anyone could accuse Karajan of shallowness having heard this swirling descent into annihilation is beyond me.
I remain attached to the tauter Mravinsky set but the early 60's sound is hissy and brittle compared with the sumptuousness here; for individual recordings of the Fourth and Fifth, a young Abbado with the VPO and Shipway with the RPO remain first recommendations but Karajan's Sixth is in a class of its own.
This is the set made for EMI with analogue recording equipment in the early 1970's. They were recorded, like the 1960's analogue set on DGG, in the Jesus-Christus-Kirche. Both of these sets have been remastered, the DGG one using 24 bit technology as opposed to the Original Bit Imaging favoured on other DGG discs and the EMI one using there own methods.
On the face of it, one would expect the EMI recording to have the edge as sound simply because it is the later recording done in the same venue and also being analogue. That is not the case as the EMI recording becomes uncomfortably edgy on the top range at climatic points (the start of the fourth symphony will suffice) and with a strange tendency to 'glassiness' (check the timpani roll before the final section of the fifth symphony for this)on some textures including the timpani and trumpets when played loudly. Additionally, the EMI recording allows far more of the church echo to intrude and this results in too much resonance on the lower strings in particular with a consequent loss of detail as regards notes played (pitch). In all of these respects they remind me of the LP set I once owned of these recordings which had the same characteristics.
The DGG remastered discs are far clearer and truthful in all of these respects and this applies throughout the two sets despite the disparity in their recording ages and venues. I have spent two weeks doing A/B comparisons of these three sets to attempt a reasonable and secure evaluation of their relative merits. I is worth noting that all three have received conflicting opinions from reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic as regards preferences ranging from highly enthusiastic to dismissive.
The performances themselves are surprisingly different bearing in mind usual Karajan's consistency. The EMI recording offers far more driven and dramatic performances that, in a way, suit the closer recorded balance. However this can also be accumulatively over-bearing however and certainly larger than life. At the same time the recordings lack internal detail especially when compared to the more natural balances of the earliest DGG set from the 1960's. That set, while still rising impressively to climatic moments, offers a far more balletic view at times such as in the third movement of the sixth symphony.
The other option is the analogue set of the 1970's DGG recording of the symphonies. As a set of performances it falls between the other two described above and is a fair example of the Philharmonie venue as regards sound. This is not to everyone's taste although I personally have not found the recording to be a problem to that enjoyment.
My conclusion is that all three sets have much to offer as regards performances. The EMI set is the most driven and the earlier DGG set has a touch more of the dance about it. The !970's DGG recording comes between those two. The EMI recording offers sound that is very 'present' to the point of being strident at climatic points and lacking bass detail. The first DGG recording is arguably the most realistic, greatly aided by the venue, an early favourite with DGG. The later set is very clear with plenty of weight but some find it lacking in bloom.
This is not the only attempt to describe the options for collectors but I offer the above comparisons to try and give further objective reasons for making a choice based on direct comparisons after extended A/B checking.
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on 31 January 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed the second CD with the final part of Symphony number 5 and the whole of the Pathetique. As far as I was concerned Symphony number 4 had less to offer, and I didn't particularly want it.
A fine performance nevertheless, and it will be played over many times by me
on 18 October 2014
Although I am a musician, I've never been a big fan of the Romantic Symphony. However, I heard Tchaikovsky' s Fourth on the radio recently and realised just how thrilling it is. I immediately perused Amazon for a copy and went for this one as it was (extremely) inexpensive and had great reviews. I was not disappointed. The recording is superb and I've listened to it in the car all week. Even though I was expecting the thunderous 4th movement of the Fourth, it still made me jump! Gorgeous, and highly recommended.
on 1 May 2011
These recordings of Tchaikovsky's popular last three Symphonies by Herbert Von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic have to be among the best around. EMI released these recordings in 1972 and the strength and fine playing that Karajan coaxes out of the Berlin Philharmonic is amazing. This is reflected in all three Symphonies here, but particularly the 5th, which stood out for me. You won't want to hear any other Orchestral versions of these Tchaikovsky Symphonies after listening to this CD.