Abbado has recorded all of the Beethoven Symphonies
on CD for Deutsche Grammophon. This series of DVDs is now being released
and records a series of concerts given in Rome in 2001. They are using
the same editions of the Symphonies (Jonathon Del Mar) as they did in
the CD versions. These gave Abbado a chance to review his approach.
The new edition goes back to the original manuscripts and subsequent
corrections by the composer as well as to other published editions.
Without comparing the new edition with the old, the changes appear to
be of a relatively minor nature and an average listener will be unable
to tell which edition is being used.
A far more important effect is that of the conductor’s
approach to the music. Here we have interpretations so far removed from
that of his Berlin predecessor, Herbert von Karajan, that there is no
continuity of interpretation from the earlier era. There is none of
the lushness beloved of Karajan and his army of fans. It is amazing
that after a few years this approach is now sneered at as an anachronism.
Listening to these earlier performances, I find that their strong points
are still there. Abbado however supplies something which is more contemporary.
Abbado recorded a series of these symphonies in the
late 1980s with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, also released on
DG. At the time these older performances were not rated as great, but
merely as a good run-through. If any of you are basing your response
to this DVD upon these earlier recordings, you are in for a shock.
Abbado, evincing a wonderful rapport with his orchestra,
is clearly thoroughly enjoying himself and this despite looking distinctly
unwell as a result of his recent serious illness. The orchestra shares
the pleasure with "on the edge of the seat" playing and complete
commitment to their conductor.
With the new editions, Abbado has elected for a much
reduced size of orchestra for the Second Symphony, using only three
double basses and four cellos. This sparer sound produces a lightness
in phrasing almost, dare I say it, like a period performance. It clearly
is not a period performance but nowadays, many conductors are absorbing
what has been learned without going the whole hog. Here we have modern
instruments, steel strings and modern brass and woodwind driven superbly
by their conductor.
The recording quality is extremely fine, capturing
the tonal splendour of this very great orchestra to perfection. The
closing in on individual instruments in good BBC fashion enhances the
listening experience considerably.
Anyone choosing this release is in for a very rewarding
experience. It gives one the chance to see a world class (if not the
world class) orchestra thoroughly at ease with their Music Director,
playing favourite Beethoven symphonies with maximum style and enjoyment.
Its audience is both quiet and attentive and voracious in their reaction
to them at the close, and this is well deserved.