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Ode to the Joy,
This review is from: Beethoven: Symphony No.9 'Choral' (Audio CD)
Yes, the pundits were right: This is the Ninth to end all Ninths. I have yet to hear a finer version; not even from Karajan himself, who made three stereo versions of this great swan song of a symphony. The Deutsche Grammophon rather curiously chose the 1962 production for their 'Originals' (or Legendary Recordings) series, but it is less serene and sometimes haste, and the intended epitaph of 1982 is somewhat marred by the rashness of the early digital sound and the thin, flawed singing of the soprano.
No such quibbles with the analogue 1977 version here; the fruition of Karajan's long-standing partnership with the Berlin Philharmonics and the Wiener Singverein chorus. Beethoven does not waste a beat in his arguably finest symphony, and nor does his great champion Karajan, as becomes evident from the very first boom of the timpani. The slow movement is one of extraordinary serene beauty and lyricism; it takes a whopping 16'50 to perform, but escapes all sentimentality through the sheer expansiveness of its shape. The celebrated finale has thrilling animal excitement and drama; it is taken very fast but never sounds rushed - a great testimony to the skills of the Berlin forces and their perfectionist maestro. Here, 'nobility' is the keyword throughout the performance.
The all-important soloists make possibly the greatest team Karajan ever managed to muster. They are also very good individually with, perhaps, the youthful bass-baritone José van Dam outstanding. But fine contributions all around, and the same applies to the cultivated singing of the Vienna chorus.
Unfortunately the liner notes do not offer any suggestions as to the whereabouts of the recording. An educated guess would point to the ambient Jesu Christe Kirche of Berlin, for the digitally remastered sound has plenty of boom and body. Yet it is simultaneously attentive to detail and clear in the treble. There may not be the extreme dynamism of the more recent recordings, but whether this is a loss at all is clearly a matter of taste.
As an aside, a copy of this specific 1977 Ninth is on display in a glass cabinet at my employer's (The Public Broadcasting Corporation of Finland) as a representative of the vinyl era. A fitting choice indeed; this is a Desert Island disc if there ever was one. (Do try to hear Furtwaengler's hallowed 1951 account. Even if you are content with the rather boxy mono sound, don't let it stop you from sampling - and obtaining - the Karajan as well.)