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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 - 1827)
Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21 (1800)
Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 (1808)
Symphony No. 8 in F, Op. 93 (1812)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado
Directed by Bob Cole.
recorded in February 2001 live at Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rome (DVD).
TDK10 5116-9 DV BPAB 168 [75 minutes]


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This is another in the series of live recordings of Beethoven Symphonies from Santa Cecilia in Rome played by the Berlin Philharmonic, under their then Music Director, Claudio Abbado. This time we have symphonies 1, 6 and 8. This combination runs for the same time as the companion disc of Nos. 2 and 5. Abbado and his orchestra performed all nine of the symphonies in Rome to great critical acclaim. Judging by these DVDs the concerts must have been well worth attending. These discs may have a good take up in Italy as reminders of good concerts but I believe that their appeal should be much wider than this.

The editions of the scores are those from Jonathan Del Mar who over the past few years has been annotating the music from original manuscripts, reflecting corrections from Beethoven himself, and referring to other editions. I am sure that these will be of tremendous interest to music students and the like, but I am not so sure that the general music lover will notice that much difference. When changes of this kind are lauded it is generally for what they inspire in performers rather for the printed notes.

What has happened here, is that Claudio Abbado has completely rethought his attitude to Beethoven’s symphonies. In the lighter works, e.g. 1, 2, 4 and 8 all these use much smaller forces than the others. For example the Berlin Philharmonic is down to three basses and four cellos with an equivalent reduction in the other string areas. This results in a much sparer sound than we are accustomed to and allows Abbado to significantly lighten the textures.

These performances are very similar to those issued by DG recently on CD. Gone are the lush textures of yesteryear. Abbado, however supplies something which is more contemporary, and in addition is able to get the Berlin Philharmonic playing as if their very lives depend upon it. There is no heavy-handed leadership to do this as the orchestra gives the impression of working closely with their Music Director through co-operation, rather than direction.

Abbado, now has a wonderful rapport with his orchestra, is clearly thoroughly enjoying himself, in spite of looking distinctly unwell as a result of his recent serious illness. The orchestra is also clearly enjoying itself with "edge of the seat" playing, and complete commitment to their conductor.

The First Symphony is played in a very lively fashion, looking back to Haydn rather than forward to later Beethoven. It is placed after the Pastoral and before the Eighth, which I find a bit strange. Still there is nothing to complain about in the performance.

The Pastoral is played in a very light manner, given that the orchestra is now slightly closer to full strength (here only four double basses instead of the previous three). The recording quality is extremely fine, capturing the tonal splendour of this very great orchestra to perfection. The zooming in on individual instruments in characteristic BBC fashion enhances the listening experience considerably.

The Eighth is a revelation. Played in this lightweight manner, the symphony really does sound like Beethoven’s "Little Symphony" as he called it, but still has power reflected in the playing of the invigorated Berlin Orchestra.

With this DVD, there is also a "Special Feature". If you push your "Angle" button, you can see the entire work while watching Abbado, with no other views in the frame. This feature would have made Karajan’s day. Switching back, you get these conductor shots, mixed in with views of the other members of the orchestra. This is fascinating if you want to watch the conductor at work.

Don’t hesitate with this issue – it is a gem.


John Phillips



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