Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 - Karajan (1976)
Deutsche Grammophon 471 640-2
Classical - Orchestral
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125
Anna Tomowa-Sintow (soprano)
Agnes Baltsa (contralto)
Peter Schreier (tenor)
Jose van Dam (bass)
Herbert von Karajan (conductor)
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Recording: Berlin, Philharmonie, 9/1976
Executive Producers: Dr. Hans Hirsch / Magdalene Padberg
Recording Producer: Michel Glotz
Tonmeister (Balance Engineer): Günter Hermanns
New surround mix and new stereo mix: Gernot von Schultzendorff
Recorded, mastered and edited by Emil Berliner Studios
Review by John Broggio - April 18, 2005
How to review this recording? It's very tricky and provoked mixed reactions for me whilst listening.
Personally, I find this recording to be a supreme example of the "old school" in Beethoven playing and conducting: superbly rich & polished playing/singing without a hint of roughness. That is *not* to say that there aren't accents or the like but that they are executed with the same care and tenderness as awarded to the pianissimo entries. The recording has something to do with this effect too (more of which later).
Throughout the playing is sustained in all sections of the orchestra and immaculately phrased. Karajan's pacing is logical, steady (but not slow) and unerring throughout and the climaxes are built relentlessly to towering fortissimos, especially in the first movement (you really hear where Bruckner's 9th comes from!) In the second movement the playing is fleet-of-foot and here, I find that the recording is guilty of "smoothing" some accents a little. The slow movement is simply and beautifully played without too much romantic phrasing being evident. The finale has moments when it appears a bit sluggish by modern standards but is well played. The orchestral playing is committed and biting throughout (the orchestral declamation just before the entrance of the tenor is particularly exciting). The soloists are well matched and clearly fit well with Karajan's conception. However, the chorus is large and hence seem to make rather heavy weather of the faster moments. At the very end, the coda finishes in a blaze that, in other works, Karajan seemed reluctant to allow his forces to display. In short, a highly recommendable version of this masterpiece although the new Del Mar texts require anyone seriously interested in Beethoven's original thoughts to seek one of Haitink's (Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 - Haitink) or Vänskä's (Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 - Vänskä) accounts.
The recording itself though is highly controversial. I find that the acoustic of the Philharmonie is fairly well reproduced, as is the glorious but steely tone of the BPO. However, the sound seems to be at once distant (robbing the strings of some bite and damping the accents) and close (giving at times, a very congested sound - particularly during the choral forte's). In some ways I'd like to give the sound 4-4.5 stars as the BPO actually sound like the BPO but equally I'd like to give 0.5-1 stars for the way that the accents are smoothed over (even though one can hear the instrumentalists playing them in the timbre produced). I'll leave it blank! (I wouldn't want to put anyone off from getting this recording if they are on the look out for an "old school" performance - just be advised that some of the sound quality is more than a little strange & so not a demo disc.)
Copyright © 2005 John Broggio and HRAudio.net