Here we have a real bargain for all music loving
DVD collectors. This issue couples Beethoven’s two longest symphonies
on one disc; a feat impossible on normal CDs. It is the latest
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 two
venues, with the Ninth being recorded in 2000 in the Philharmonie,
As before, 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, corrections from Beethoven
himself, and other editions. I am sure that these will be of tremendous
interest to music students and the like, but I am not so sure
whether the general music lover will notice that much difference.
When changes of this kind are lauded it is generally in relation
to what they inspire in performers rather than the actual printed
Claudio Abbado has rethought his attitude to
Beethoven’s symphonies. In these two works, the orchestra is larger
than before, but the tempi are still fleet of foot compared with
his earlier CD cycle with the Vienna Philharmonic on DG. This
is said by many commentators to be a reflection of period performance
practice, but I am not so sure.
Older collectors might like to remember a famous
older performance of the Eroica from the Vienna Philharmonic under
Erich Kleiber. As with Abbado, there is the first movement exposition
repeat, and the timings of both performances are almost identical,
as is the phrasing and weight of each. Rather than period performance
practice, I believe the differences between many modern performances
and older ones are to do with the basic tempo. Many modern issues
are slow and romantic when compared to performances of the 1950s
and 1960s of which many listeners are totally unaware. It is therefore
no surprise when a conductor, looking back to older conductors
to find inspiration, is treated as wonderful by critics who were
not around when these earlier performances were available.
These performances are very similar to those
issued by DG recently on CD.
As before, in previous issues in this series,
the Berlin Philharmonic play as if their very lives depend upon
it. Abbado’s leadership is clear and concise, and the orchestra
gives the impression of working closely with their Music Director
through co-operation, rather than direction.
The soloists in the Choral are first rate, with
Karita Mattila turning in her usual very high class performance,
ably supported by the other somewhat less well known artists.
The choirs are magnificent, and greatly enhance the overall pleasure
to be obtained from Beethoven’s final symphony. Abbado often works
with these two choirs and one can hear why. Surely there must
be choirs of a similar standard in Berlin, but these visitors
turn in a performance of sheer magic.
There are two venues on this disc and of the
two the recording done in the Philharmonie (The Choral) has the
better sound quality. It is only marginal, and if you have been
happy with the quality of previous issues in this series, it is
well up to the standard of the earlier releases. You should be
In the Eroica, there is also the "Special
Feature," which has been used before. If you push your "Angle"
button, you can follow the entire work watching the conductor,
with no other views in the frame. You could say that this feature
would have made Karajan’s day. Switching back, you get these conductor
shots, mixed in with shots of the other members of the orchestra.
Fascinating if you want to watch the conductor at work.
Don’t hesitate with this issue – it is a gem.