Most of the pictures of the ailing Karajan in the 80's show him holding himself stiffly and awkwardly as a result of his chronic back condition. At times he conducted virtually immobile yet there are several incandescent performances, both live and studio, from this last phase of his career with an increasingly alienated Berlin Philharmonic.
This is one of them. Not all the recordings in his last Beethoven cycle are by any means as recommendable but they are mostly in excellent sound and amongst them are two winners: the Eighth and this Eroica. The intensity and drive of the opening and closing movements are phenomenal and there is no sign either of the slickness or the glibness which could afflict Karajan's performances. Tempi are swift and the control over dynamics is as subtle as ever, especially in a finely graded Funeral March which builds and builds from a relatively restrained beginning to great power at its mid-point in the chorale and never lets up after that. Despite all the Sturm und Drang of the preceding movements the Scherzo is at first decidedly playful before taking on more weight without gaining heaviness - if you see what I mean...It would be otiose to comment yet again on the miracle which was - and still is - the BPO and whatever their tensions with the conductor they do his will with a will.
For me, a particular bonus is a thrilling account of my favourite Beethoven overture, one to match my preferred recording by Masur with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. This one is at first grander and sturdier then Masur's lean, biting interpretation but really takes off at the crucial point after the slow introduction when we go Allegro and the momentum is enthralling.
on 14 November 2014
Herbie's digital cycle has never received good press. Two exceptions are made: the Eighth (which is olympian) and this performance of the Eroica. To their number, I would also add the first and third movements of the Ninth.
Karajan once barged into Klemperer's changeroom after the latter had performed the Eroica with words to the effect that "I hope one day to conduct the funeral music as well as what you did tonight - and good night to you". In this performance, he - and the Berlin Phil - duly delivered and in spades. This is volcanic in its output. I have the so-called legendary 1944 Furtwangler in my collection. It's a tame beast compared with this outing.
Additionally, the last movement is an apotheosis. Upon its close, one is afflicted by the Bends if one jumps back into routine too quickly.
The 20-bit remastering has significantly reduced its digital glare.
Compare this majestic utterance with the likes of Abbado / BPO (either the remake or the 'covered up' job) or the Rattle / VPO (to say nothing of Jeggy's turnips). Oh, how the mighty have fallen . . . . . . Thankfully this performance captures the Old School at its zenith!
on 4 January 2012
Karajan is as intertwined with the Berliner Phil. as they are with the Beethoven symphonies. It can sometimes be tricky not to get caught up in that and consider that because it's Karajan and from Deutsch Grammophone it must be good. This is something to guard against.
I bought this as a replacement for my vinyl copy which is from the same stable. Whilst the vinyl sounds a little better, if carefully set up, and I like the recording more, a CD is of course less fragile and more suitable for daily listening.
In terms of exceution Karajan is fast, much faster on the first movement than Furtwangler for example would have been. This is evident if you play the recordings against each other, (Furtwangler's Vienna Phil recording from the early 1950's). While some may object that such a speed is excessive, and Beethovens much maligned metronome will be brought up, the music doesn't suffer for it, it is merely different. It sounds more like the old recordings from Toscanini and the NBC, but of course with the added benefit of a superb recording and flawless execution of the work.
Karajan brings his own interpretation of the work and it sounds full, rich and very filling with what sounds like a full orchestration. It certainly fills me well and leaves me sated for a while.
on 3 June 2013
Von Karajan has a style of his own - crisp, emphatic chords and a fast pace. It suits this the first of Beethoven's 'breakaway' symphonies, as he leaves behind the tired old formulas for a new, noisy, but thrilling approach to symphonic construction.