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Beethoven: Symphonies 3 & 4 - Karajan

Beethoven: Symphonies 3 & 4 - Karajan

Deutsche Grammophon  474 602-2

Stereo Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 3 "Eroica" & 4

Berliner Philharmoniker
Herbert von Karajan (conductor)

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Review by John Broggio - January 14, 2006

In the "Eroica" symphony, Karajan omits the opening exposition repeat - a great shame which deprives us of some great music & music making. The tempo adopted here may be slower than many use these days but, such is the quality of phrasing and litheness of the playing, that the piece takes on an epic proportion (rightly) instead of being a clumsy bombastic statement. The approach is more openly Romantic than the first two symphonies of this cycle which leads, ironically, to less audible impact of the accents that were a joy previously. It is a shame as the drive and drama of the piece come across less well. The second movement is played at a daringly slow tempo by the standards of today and is a tribute to both the Berliners playing and Karajan's careful phrasing that is does not become stodgy but remains noble - in the closing coda, you are reminded of why Richard Strauss admired Karajan's interpretation of Metamorphosen, a very tragic mood falls over the precedings. Things pick up, tempo-wise, in the last two movements which are both tremendously exciting, spoilt only by the large body of strings in some of the most complex variations which cloud some textures and whilst the Poco Andante is a little slow for my tastes nowadays, the Presto concludes the piece with a relative blaze of glory.

The fourth symphony is altogether more successful. Partly this is due to Karajan being more in keeping with today's tempi preference and partly that the less complex scoring makes the large forces less of a problem when the allegro's are forte - the sense of congestion just isn't so apparent. Overall I would rate the Eroica as about 3-3.5 stars, the fourth symphony as 3.5-4 stars.

The sound is very revealing of what a truly magnificent orchestra Karajan had at his disposal in the early 1960's but sadly the tape's have suffered a little and there is a hint of harshness on the violins together with some "vacuum cleaner"-esque clarinets. Don't let it put you off though, a really classly example of great music making from another time. (Notes are from Richard Osborne concentrating more on Karajan than Beethoven.)

Copyright © 2006 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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See also 474 600-2.