Perhaps one could forgive Karajan for being so obsessed with himself if he
were faithful to Beethoven's score. But he is not. He knows better than
Beethoven; Karajan is the master, not Beethoven. As I am a confirmed Beethovian,
I do not warm to Karajan's adultery. He uses two timpanists for a passage
in the first movement which is not what Beethoven wrote and employs eight
horns. This is Beethoven, not Wagner.
And the theatricals continue. The orchestra, which is all male, are made
to play with an unnatural exaggerated energy as if there were wild Indians
pursuing the seventh cavalry and desperate for scalps. Indeed, it is often
very exciting but it is merely ostentation and insincere.
There are visual effects that are frankly quite stupid. In the finale we
have, just for a few minutes, some lights showering Karajan; the artistic
supervisor is highlighted with glitter. The compulsion which is evident is
that he is to outdo Beethoven.
All this is so puerile and distracting. The performance is precise and mechanical
and the camera operators' fascination with Karajan, who obviously supervised
it all, is laughable and no wonder their names are not given in any credits.
Equally ridiculous is that Karajan does not look at the orchestra for the
first three movements apart from wanting a handkerchief to mop his brow.
Indeed, he conducts the floor and a vacuum cleaner in his hand is more suitable
than a baton. His movements are often eccentric to the point of being both
inane and painfully embarrassing.
But he is not the only conductor to behave in such ridiculous ways. However,
it is curious that these 'mad' conductors are often the famous names. Perhaps
Sir Adrian Boult and Fritz Reiner would be worshipped as Karajan was, if
they had been musically cranky in performance. Fortunately they were not.
The choral finale is well done and for this Karajan does look at the performers
but I suspect he is wanting them to look at him. The soloists are a mixed
bunch. José van Dam is as solid as a rock; René Kollo struggles
at one point because of the eccentric conducting; Anna Tomowa-Sintow may
be just a little over the top while Agnes Baltsa is the exact opposite of
Karajan in that she is natural, composed and unaffected.
But the affectations of Karajan are something else. Does it make a travesty
of the genius of Beethoven? Perhaps not, for his incomparable ability remains
unsullied whatever man may do to him.