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Customer Review

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyable set of Beethoven Symphonies, 15 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Beethoven: 9 Symphonies; Overtures (Audio CD)
When I was growing up, this seemed to be the set of Beethoven Symphonies to go for. I used to love the covers with the number of the symphony in various designs [the 5 on a pedestal, the 3 on fire etc]. Karajan recorded complete cycles in the 1950s with the Philharmonia and recorded sets in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s with the Berlin Philharmonic. This is a review of the 1970s recordings; I do not feel qualified to judge on which was the best of the 4 sets but I would say that they all say something unique about Karajan's approach to Beethoven.

The first thing I would say about Karajan as a conductor in this music is that he is never boring. Having had a wonderful 7 hours listening to each symphony in succession, I never felt the urge to go off and do something else or wish he would just get on with it. Instead, I marvelled at his interpretive understanding of the music and the consistency of his approach.

There are always caveats. Although these performances are thrilling and exciting in places, they are also very civilised. It does feel like a superbly engineered Mercedes Benz that can drive at high speeds without giving any impression that the engine is under any strain. Long experience of Beethoven makes me prefer the music to sound more raw and revolutionary. This doesn't sound like music to storm the barricades.

Having said that, I don't think that I have heard a better recording of the 9th Symphony than the one in this set. It really sets of the cycle and is superbly sung and played in every department.

Whatever misgivings I have voiced, I still recommend this set very highly and think that no-one should be disappointed in owning it.
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Initial post: 25 Jun 2016 19:35:26 BDT
Last edited by the author on 25 Jun 2016 19:40:09 BDT
'Long experience of Beethoven makes me prefer the music to sound more raw and revolutionary. This doesn't sound like music to storm the barricades'.

I very much agree with this - it's this feeling that makes me always shy away from 100% endorsement of Karajan's Beethoven. I remember reading a review somewhere in which it was remarked that Karajan's Beethoven sounds as if the outcome of the revolution is a foregone conclusion, or words to that effect. I am paraphrasing from memory there but it was along those lines. I also think that many conductors, not only Karajan, don't get the sense of revolutionary fervour into the Ninth, particularly. The adagio is treated as a bastion of beauty and calm but I always want it to have more force to it - that's why I don't find a problem with the HIP performances that come in a lot quicker than how Karajan/Bernstein etc played it. As a general rule, I find live recordings of the Ninth more compelling as they seem to have rather more vim.
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Bacchus
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   

Location: Greater London - Surrey

Top Reviewer Ranking: 399