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Customer Review

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Minority Report, 18 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Beethoven: 9 Symphonies; Overtures (Audio CD)
Yes, as we all know, 90% of listeners prefer the 1963 cycle, relegating the likes of me firmly to the Minority. Here is my Apologia for the 1976 / 1977 cycle (& please note, given the endless debates, plagiarism is unavoidable):

1 - The 1977 Ninth is widely considered to be among the greatest recordings of all time - it is the Transit of Jupiter set to music. In the very least, it is the equal of its predecessor as a performance and the choir do not sound as if they were recorded at the bottom of the River Spee. As others have noted, Herbie red-lines himself at the end of the symphony and this is a rarity for such a highly controlled conductor. The sheer ferocity of the first movement is sui generis (with apologies to Toscanini). When comparing cycles, the better Nine must surely carry weight.

2 - The Pastoral is a far more relaxed affair than the overly tense 1963 performance and the key repeat in the scherzo is observed. Many people are not convinced by Herbie's reading of the Pastoral per se: again, I am in the Minority and this 1976 performance, IMO, is the best actualisation of his approach. For instance, the great Brucknerian blaze-ups in the finale are 'Affirmations of Being' - and how they resonate!

3. Again, as others have noted, the October 1976 performance of the Seventh is a once off. It might seem too 'stringy' to modern ears but what strings they are. The 1963 performance is superlative, but there is something about its successor that is ultimately inexplicable and thus all the more electrifying. The opening of the slow movement is the Oresteia set to music.

4. Herbie excelled in the Eroica. Indeed, even the 1984 'Karajan Gold' performance has strong - if not stronger - claims on a collector (along with the superlative 8). I concede the excellence of the 1963 alternative but again, the first movement of the 1977 Eroica is a once off. The Penguin Guide was right to highlight its peculiar nature but errant in their choice of words. Far from being edgy, it is akin to the young Napoleon heatedly scaling the Alps like Hannibal in search of his destiny. To my mind it has no peer - and the other three movements are comparable.

5. The other symphonies - 1, 2, 4, 5, and 8 - to my ears do not differ greatly from their predecessors with one exception: the Berlin Philharmonic itself. The orchestra evolved over time (and under Herbie's tutelage)to become a near-infallible ensemble by the mid-1970s when these recordings were made (infallible in terms of its core repertoire, not, say, Bach or Stravinsky). Most of its recordings from the 1970s radiate a supreme self-confidence if not a swagger, married to virtuosity of the highest order. To use a well worn, if not worm-ridden cliche, they play as if their lives depend upon it - such could be the epithet of these leonine performances.

Make no mistake: this cycle is Beethoven writ large - a Colossus who bestrides the earth - whereas at his feet lie the puny creations of Norrington, Jeggy, Abbado ( x 3), Harnoncourt, Rattle, Zinman, all of whom are infected by Hogwood-itis to varying degrees. Longevity is not theirs; the ignoble grave beckons.

As demonstrated by a once-off release of 5, 6 & 9, the entire 1976/77 cycle could benefit from a remastering. Even so, do not look past this cycle. Rejoice in dissent.
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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 30 May 2012 14:33:44 BDT
PK says:
I have a great time reading your reviews which mirror my thoughts on some of those mutally owned.

Fantastic!

Is there a book?

:)

In reply to an earlier post on 30 May 2012 19:46:13 BDT
Thank you for the generous comment PK. Such as they are, there are a lot more reviews on Amazon.com. As the author of two failed novels, I see no reason to add a third to their number - and I only write these reviews to burn off "the excess energy" at the behest of my wife! Again, thank you very much and best wishes, B

Posted on 24 Oct 2012 16:29:26 BDT
Last edited by the author on 24 Oct 2012 16:29:45 BDT
Count Arthur says:
I have is 5th & 6th on CD and I think they have an awful glassy sound. I guess they have been earlier recordings - don't know and must check it.

I have on vinyl the Klemper and Leibowitz 9 symphony box sets and these, to my ears, are much better than my CD versions. But then again I prefer listening to analog rather than digital.

ps did enjoy your review.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Oct 2012 18:15:24 BDT
WJM - thank you for your comment.

These analogue recordings have been remastered to better effect. I cannot find the link at the moment but when I do I will post it.

Best wishes, B

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Oct 2012 18:17:40 BDT
Count Arthur says:
I like the analog originals. I have a very good front end and they sound glorius. Sorry not a huge fan of digital but these days we have no choice, even modern LPs are recorded digitally.

Posted on 1 Mar 2014 21:36:12 GMT
The release of the 5th, 6th and 9th you mention came a few years earlier than this release of the entire '76 cycle - this whole cycle is remastered.

Posted on 30 Oct 2014 17:42:30 GMT
GeeStrod says:
1) Norrington is novelty - but wonderful novelty
2) Haroncourt is Hard (notice my NN HH method of simplicity!) lol
but the point i make is haroncourt is paired down for a reason - because you really have to concentrate Hard to pick up the essence - and if you do - well if you do you'll get it. there's something there in his 4th for example I only got wind of once - a kind of dark splendour as deep as mozart's joy - well it's hard work on the vibe tuning but I'm sure haroncourt works hard to pick these things up.

Posted on 20 Sep 2015 16:42:55 BDT
jonjo says:
Bernard, do you know if this set has the same remastering as the German Eloquence set released earlier which I believe uses the AMSI process.I used to own the set which was published in 1990 which I foolishly let go and am now trying to decide which of these re-releases to purchase.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Sep 2015 23:36:28 BDT
HI Jonjo - this is the old remastering. Go for the AMSI alternative - it sounds sensational!

I really need to update this review and make mention of this:

Symphonies 1-9/Overtures

mate, this is it!!!

Best wishes, B

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Sep 2015 17:45:47 BDT
jonjo says:
Thanks very much for the info. Bernard.I find most of your reviews illuminating,others baffling!
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Location: Melbourne, Australia

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