Beethoven: 9 Symphonies - Karajan (1963)

Beethoven: 9 Symphonies - Karajan (1963)

Universal (Japan)  UCGG-9183 (5 discs)

Stereo Single Layer

Classical - Orchestral

Beethoven: 9 Symphonies, Violin Concerto

Christian Ferras, violin
Gundula Janowitz, soprano
Hilde Rössel-Majdan, alto
Waldemar Kmentt, tenor
Walter Berry, bass
Wiener Singverein
Berliner Philharmoniker
Herbert von Karajan, conductor

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Comments (23)

Comment by Kveld-Úlfr - March 9, 2020 (1 of 23)

As an SHM SA-CD fan and a Beethoven: 9 Symphonies - Karajan (1963) owner, I truly wonder what this edition will sound like.
No need to talk about the interpretation as this one is a true classic.
The sound is the matter here. The blu-ray edition is a truly well done PCM 96/24 conversion and I wonder, even owning more than 120 SHM SA-CD, what result this direct to DSD conversion would produce as this Japanease catalog always surprises me by its quality.

Comment by Contrapunctus - March 10, 2020 (2 of 23)

Kveld-Úlfr, I absolutely agree - and I'm also looking forward to listen to this new edition! On the other hand: my first impression about Universal Japan's announcement of a new remastering was: is it really necessary to do it again? - Well, we will see!

Btw: this edition also contains the violin concerto with Christian Ferras.

Comment by hiredfox - March 12, 2020 (3 of 23)

The 1976 cycle was thought by many to be superior on disc especially the 9th. Make sure you get what you expect when considering re-mastered versions. Not sure I would want both surveys. Both were studio recordings.

Comment by DYB - March 14, 2020 (4 of 23)

I'm one of the people who thinks the 1970s cycle is the best one and the earlier release of it was superb. I will be buying this one, though because, well, it's an illness with no cure! There have been a few HD releases of it already, so we'll see if this was necessary...

Comment by Contrapunctus - March 25, 2020 (5 of 23)

The time has come - the new remastering is here!

It wasn't just me wondering whether this Beethoven cycle should be revisited again. Especially since 2003 a high-resolution remastering took place, which is available on SACD, BluRay and download.

In order to satisfy the curiosity of many, I give my first listening impressions here. For comparison, I use the remastering from 2003 (here as a 24/96 download).

The good news first: the new remastering carried out by Emil Berliner Studios 2/2020 differs significantly from the 2003 version. In a positive way:

Band damage was audible in many places in the old remastering. These are now almost gone! This shows that remastering is not just the digitization of tapes, but can also include cleaning and restoration work. A good example is the 2nd movement from the 1st symphony: at 0:59-1:01 2-3 dropouts or short disturbances are audible. Even at 1:35-1:50 (first timpani appearance), sound disturbances can be heard. With the new remastering, none (!) of this is audible. It’s really great.

In addition, the basic sound is noticeably more direct. The new remastering also sounds more stable and fluid overall. That might be a bit funny, but I can't describe it any other way.

The old 2003 remastering seems to have been processed with additional reverb. (This is now clear in a direct comparison.)

Of course, even in this really excellent form, the recordings cannot completely deny their age. But the improvements - especially regarding the previous band damage - is really remarkable and adds extra shine to these legendary recordings!

As mentioned in a previous comment, this new edition includes the Violin Concerto with Christian Ferras as a bonus SACD - also remastered.

Now that both analog Beethoven cycles (DG) Karajans are available in a new remastering on SACD, the question may arise which is the "better" one. Of course, everyone must basically decide this question for themselves (if in doubt, both). But: with the new remastering of this 1963 cycle, the difference in recording technology compared to the 1977 cycle has become smaller. What I particularly like about the 63 cycle compared to the 77 is the stronger presence of the woodwinds. In the 77 cycle, the woodwinds in particular are heavily covered by the string sound. - But that's also a matter of taste.

- Happy listening - and stay healthy! -

Comment by John Drake - March 25, 2020 (6 of 23)

Contrapunctus, I welcome your comments having just received this edition.

Initial listening impressions are very positive, though I have no other editions of this recording to compare with.
I did come across an oddity on one track - a type of high-frequency "ringing" on disc 3, track 4 - "Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 - 'Pastoral': 4. Gewitter, Sturm. Allegro" at 1:57 - 2:09.
Could this be a digital artifact? Nonetheless a small issue!

Comment by Contrapunctus - March 26, 2020 (7 of 23)

John, I listened to the passage you mentioned on both versions (2003 and 2020). I can see no artifact or interference here. At this point, however, the piccolo can be heard very, very clearly. This may seem a bit shrill - but is actually part of the orchestral recording.

In the meantime I have now heard the 9th symphony and compared it with the old version. Here the improvements are particularly noticeable in the final movement. Because in a direct comparison with the remaster from 2003 it becomes clear that Emil Berliner Studios also did a new remixing. And that leads to a much more natural overall sound, which creates a completely new balance between soloists, choir and orchestra. (In the old remaster in 2003, individual orchestral groups or the soloist quartet were sometimes placed too strongly in the foreground.)

I have to say that I am more and more impressed and fascinated by this new edition.

Comment by John Drake - March 26, 2020 (8 of 23)

Contrapunctus, thank you for the clarification - the piccolo deceived my 60 year old ears!

Comment by hiredfox - March 28, 2020 (9 of 23)

There are no links to sellers as yet, how did you get hold of your copies?

Comment by Contrapunctus - March 28, 2020 (10 of 23)

Well, impatient as I am, I often order from cdjapan with fedex priority as shipping method. If the order is placed in time, delivery will generally take place on the day of release. It was the same this time: I received my copy on Wednesday 25th. (I have to say that this shipping method is unfortunately also the most expensive.)

Comment by John Drake - March 28, 2020 (11 of 23)

I pre-ordered from CDJapan and selected DHL shipping which is tracked and insured.
I received my copy in Australia on release day (March 25).

Comment by hiredfox - March 31, 2020 (12 of 23)

Thanks chaps. It seems that it is available from CD Japan for 12000 yen or £90 sterling yet the CD Japan link is not activated above. This site is not so good at keeping up to date these days, a good number of recent releases have not been shown on which is disappointing as it has been a very reliable source in the past.

Comment by Steven Harrison - April 1, 2020 (13 of 23)

The CDJapan link works for me.
Yes, true about the listing of new releases. New releases used to be listed every Sunday but several Sunday's have passed since last update. However one new disc was listed today.

Comment by Don_Angelo - May 5, 2020 (14 of 23)

Hello, I ordered my copy last week-end, though being a bit skeptical because I owned and liked the previous SACD incarnation. Contrapunctus' comments convinced me, and reminded me of the pleasant surprise that were 70's Tchaikovsky and Beethoven cycles. ;)
Will let you know as soon I'll be able to hear it.

Comment by Athenaeus - January 18, 2021 (15 of 23)

I finally ordered this when the price dropped on Amazon for a few days. I will try to find some time to post my impressions after I'm done listening to it. However, I wanted to mention something that I haven't read anywhere else and that might be of interest to the users of this site. Universal Japan usually package their SACD releases in jewel cases with a burgundy spine (e.g. the Karl Böhm sets of Mozart's, Beethoven's, Schubert's or Brahms's symphonies, the Henryk Szeryng set of Bach's sonatas and partitas or the Herbert von Karajan set of Beethoven from the Seventies). But for this release, they created a nice cardboard box that looks like the original LP box of the Sixties. Each disc is stored in a plastic inner sleeve — like a vinyl record! — that goes in a paperboard outer sleeve. The outer sleeves reproduce some of the original jackets. The box is a bit bigger than a jewel case but it does juuust fit into my Ikea CD shelves. So, I was surprised by the packaging when I received this set but I do like it.

Comment by Kveld-Úlfr - January 22, 2021 (16 of 23)

Hi Athenaeus,
What you describe here is not surprisinh. As a matter of fact almost all SHM SA-CDs have that sort of packaging, with the exception of some reprints in the rock department (jewel case with yellowish obi), the Queen ones (were issued as jewel case to mark the fact that they were not entirely done by their usual team, the remastering having been done by Bob Ludwig, under the LPCM 96/24 format instead of direct to DSD) and some jewel case boxsets which are more practical packaging when there is more than one disc (I have one of these, Mendelssohn: 5 Symphonies - Karajan, 2 discs. I know that Weber: Der Freischütz - Kleiber, 2 discs, has that packaging as well).

Comment by Athenaeus - January 22, 2021 (17 of 23)

In the past Universal Japan would often package their SACDs in gatefold digipaks. Is that what you're referring to? However, as far as I know, they abandoned that type of packaging a few years ago. All the SACDs I have bought from them in the last three or four years have come in jewel cases. Apart from the Mendelssohn and Weber releases that you mentioned and that I also own, examples of releases in jewel cases are Bach/Richter/Passions, Mass, etc. (UCGA-9004, 9007, etc., released in 2016), Beethoven/Oistrakh/Violin Sonatas (UCGD-9059, 2017), Bach/Szeryng/Sonatas and Partitas (UCGG-9095, 2017), Beethoven/Böhm/Symphonies (UCGG-9136, 2018), Schubert/Kleiber/Symphonies 3 and 8 (UCGG-9533, 2018), Mozart/Böhm/Symphonies (UCGG-9144, etc., 2018), Schumann/Karajan/Symphonies (UCGG-9120, 2018), Beethoven/Karajan/Symphonies 1977 (UCGG-9129, 2018), Tchaikovsky/Mravinsky/Symphony 4 (UCGG-9530, 2018), Schubert/Böhm/Symphonies (UCGG-9141, 2018), Beethoven/Kempff/Piano Concertos (UCGG-9158, 2019), Brahms/Böhm/Symphonies (UCGG-9152, 2019). And these aren't all multi-disc sets; for example Tchaikovsky/Mravinsky/Symphony 4 is on a single disc.

This Karajan 1963 set came in a type of box that Universal — as far as I know — haven't used in a long time for their classical SACDs.

Comment by Contrapunctus - January 23, 2021 (18 of 23)

I don't think that Universal Japan changed their packaging for classical SHM-SACD. Single discs are still in their typical cardboard gatefold cover. The single disc albums presented in jewel cases are RE-releases, the product number is a bit different and the price is also reduced. These re-releases have higher numbers, starting from UCGG 9500.

Comment by Athenaeus - January 23, 2021 (19 of 23)

Ah, I wasn't aware that they used a different packaging for first releases versus re-releases of single discs. It's true that all my most recent purchases of Universal Japan single discs have been re-releases. I just checked and I see there have been a few single-disc first releases in the last few years, e.g. Karajan's complete Beethoven Overtures (UCGG-9174) that came out in January 2020. So these are in gatefold digipaks then?

But still (and this was my point initially, before I got muddled up by those single-disc releases), when it comes to multi-disc SACD sets from Universal Japan, I haven't seen anything but jewel cases in the last three or four years. Do you know of any exceptions (except for this Karajan 1963 set, of course)?

Comment by Contrapunctus - January 23, 2021 (20 of 23)

I think you're right, Athenaeus: this set is indeed the only release in a cardboard box. I also like it because of its unique (and a bit nostalgic) look. After my observations the first multi sets in jewelcase of SHM-SACD were the Bach/Karl Richter releases, in early 2016.

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