In February 2001 the Berlin Philharmonic and Claudio Abbado were guests at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome with all of Beethoven's symphonies. Their success was overwhelming: ther were standing ovations af... more »ter each performance and the critics spoke of seminal moments in the history of music. The video recordings of this event are now available in an exclusive box set, including a special multi-angle feature: the DVDs offer sequences from the 'conductor camera' and show the maestro from his musicians' perspective.« less
Glorious Performances, A Tremendous Bargain, and More
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 04/10/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In 2001, during the month of February, the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Claudio Abbado, were in residence at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome to play all nine of the Beethoven symphonies. The first eight symphonies were recorded for television by the renowned music film producer Paul Smaczny and directed for television by Bob Coles. The 9th had already been recorded in Berlin the year before with a distinguished cast of singers -- Karita Mattila, Violeta Urmana, Thomas Moser, and Eike Wim Schulte, along with the Swedish Radio Choir and the legendary Eric Ericson Chamber Choir -- and it is that performance that is included here. These performances have been released on four single DVDs previously, but this compilation box set of four discs is now available from Euroarts for an amazingly low price, much lower than than if you bought the single discs. You can read other customer reviews of the single issues here: Beethoven - Symphonies 1, 6, and 8 / Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic, Beethoven - Symphonies 2 and 5 / Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic, Beethoven - Symphonies 3 and 9 / Abbado, Mattila, Urmana, Moser, Schulte, Berlin Philharmonic, and Beethoven - Symphonies 4 and 7 / Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic. I have not reviewed the single issues but will not linger here to offer a review of each disc. I will simply say that for me Abbado is the master conductor of the present age and that his Beethoven interpretations, using the recently completed Bärenreiter edition of the symphonies done by English musicologist Jonathan del Mar, are almost universally hailed. The main achievement of this edition is the removal of hundreds of errors that crept into the first edition and have been perpetuated, or have multiplied, in subsequent editions. Abbado chooses to use somewhat reduced string sections in Symphonies Nos. 1, 2, 4 & 8, as is fitting for their gentler spirit. These same Rome and Berlin performances have been issued in a CD box set Beethoven: The Symphonies [Box Set] and in my view are generally preferred to his earlier issued traversal on Deutsche Grammophon Beethoven - Die Symphonien (Symphonies 1-9) / Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic, which in addition is hugely more expensively priced. Interestingly, the present DVD box set costs less at Amazon than the CD box set. Go figure!
Interpretively these performances tend to be a bit on the fast side, with absolutely clear sonics and transparent balances. The men and women of the Berliner Philharmoniker, a younger group than we had been used to even a decade earlier, play like angels. Abbado himself had just been through a harrowing bout with stomach cancer and looks very thin but otherwise healthy in these performances. He says of this period, 'Music is the best medicine. More than any other form of therapy, it is music that has helped me through these last few difficult months.' Visually, the performances on DVD are neatly photographed. In several of the symphonies -- Nos. 3, 5, 6 & 7 -- the viewer has the option of viewing the performance in a 'Conductor's View' in addition to the usual 'Concert View' by use of the 'angle' button on the DVD's remote control. The 'Conductor's View' simply focuses on Abbado from the orchestra's perspective.
In addition to the bonus of the 'Conductor's View', there is, on the disc with with Symphonies Nos. 4 & 7, a half-hour interview with Abbado talking about his understanding of and response to the music of Beethoven.
These performances gave me enormous pleasure and I can't recommend them highly enough.
"This set of all nine Beethoven symphonies provides a great deal of pleasure for a remarkably modest price. The added excitement of witnessing a live performance visually while enjoying the benefit of superb sound is what makes this a special journey through the Beethoven symphonies for me.
Not one of the performances will become my favorite; and given the biases we build up over time, including the fact that we tend to become attached to the first performance of a given work that really moves us, this is not a surprising result, nor one that should particularly dissuade the potential buyer. I do have to register a small amount of disappointment, however, because Abbado is one of my favorite conductors; and I was hoping for a few more revelatory moments than I encountered.
The collaboration of one of the world's best conductors and similarly superlative orchestras has produced performances that are at a very high musical level, containing much beauty and not a little virtuosity. I believe that Abbado has carefully considered and honed every phrase of the music, bringing to bear many years of experience and finely tuned sensibility; in addition, he has updated his interpretations to benefit from corrected editions of the scores and has also incorporated a style that is more in keeping with current performance trends, such as hewing more closely to Beethoven's tempo markings and generally eschewing any Romantic excesses. While all these things give us much to admire and recommend these interpretations as almost definitive, I found them to be just a little too much on the "safe" side to excite me if I remove the visual element. For all their excellence, these are performances that are neither fast nor slow, neither opulent nor austere, neither quirky nor routine, with the result that they fell a little flat with me.
I admit, and in fact insist, that Beethoven symphonies are not a good place for conductors to make highly personal statements--stray too far from a straightforward interpretation, and a conductor risks justified wrath at tampering with the sacred; but once in a while someone adds personal touches that make for a truly great performance for all time, for example Bruno Walter's Columbia Symphony recording of Beethoven's Sixth. It may not be correct, especially in terms of today's sensibilities; but it is unique in the best of ways. Abbado has the temperament and supreme musicianship to bring off a similar feat, and yet in this set I do not see that he has.
The modern avoidance of anything remotely approaching sentimentality in presenting the work of such a classical and architectural composer as Beethoven is probably as it should be, but I cannot wholly buy into it. As a result I found several instances in which opportunities for expression were passed over, especially in the first three movements of the Ninth. Adhering too closely to Beethoven's tempo markings leads to a sense of trivialization and sing-song-y-ness in several other places, too. A bit surprisingly, though, I actually enjoyed the brisker pace taken in the slow movement of the Ninth.
A few very brief impressions of these performances by individual symphony: No. 1, too bouncy; No. 2, not enough humor; No. 3, probably the best of the lot; No. 4, unexceptional; No. 5, really quite exciting; No. 6, not "pastoral" enough; No. 7, possibly tied with No. 3 for best of set; No. 8, not sunny enough; and No. 9, rallies in the end for a rousing last movement, with outstanding contributions from chorus and soloists.
Well-balanced and nicely spread-out audio is further enhanced by the choice of three different mixes: PCM stereo (CD-quality, or better, for the purist and for those lacking a surround-sound setup), and both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 surround modes. Those, like me, who like a little heavier bass and a more enveloping surround sound, will probably like the DTS the best.
One quibble with the production (and one that does not apply, for obvious reasons, to the other packagings available of this performance of Symphony No. 3, in which it occupies a disc all to itself) is that the pairing of the two longest symphonies, Nos. 3 & 9, on one disc leads to an unfortunate hesitation of play in the last movement of Sym. No. 3 as a layer-switch occurs to accommodate the greater-than-two-hour length of the disc. First, it would have made more sense to have avoided the problem altogether by swapping the Sym. No.3 with Sym. No. 2 so that one of the discs would have had Sym. Nos. 3 & 5 and another would have had Nos. 2 & 9. The current arrangement that has one disc consisting of only Symphonies Nos. 2 & 5 and with no added special feature, while crowding Nos. 3 & 9 onto one disc, just doesn't make sense. The layer-switch burp could also have been avoided by making the switch occur between movements, or even between symphonies; letting the switch occur just wherever layer #1 ran happened to run out of space was careless."
A very different Berlier P.O.
DWAinLA | L.A., CA | 04/17/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I will defer to Mr Morrison's previous review posted here for more details. This is an amazing deal for a complete Beethoven symphony cycle on DVD - $30 for a 4 DVD set! Great conductor/orchestra/audio recording and nice 16:9 widescreen, for those with newer TVs. A great aquisition for a new or discriminating collector - I am glad to own it.
But just a heads-up. This is a very different Beethoven and Berlin Philharmonic from the Karajan era. I mean almost a polar opposite extreme. Abbado has gotten into the whole newer performance practice of "fast and light" versus "slow and weighty". I am not judging here, just pointing it out. You will see/hear smaller orchestras, wooden flutes and lighter dynamics - more akin to Gardiner than Karajan. The whole thing is a little "nicer" than the Beethoven I am used to - but the trade-off is an incredible attention to detail and subtleties of dynamics.
The great thing about Beethoven is that it can really work with different approaches. So I recommend this set highly - but just know that it is only one approach to this essential repertoire. (Bernstein with the Vienna Phil is a good alternate)Bernstein: Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 2, 6 & 7 or for the "complete opposite" I mentioned earlier - Karajan Beethoven - The Symphonies Boxset / Herbert von Karajan, Gundula Janowitz, Christa Ludwig, Jess Thomas, Walter Berry, Berlin Philharmoniker"
Great Beethoven apart from the Ninth
Ivor E. Zetler | Sydney Australia | 02/23/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This Abbado/Beethoven cycle has been repackaged and is available at a bargain price. I would snap it up as it is generally a superb set. Symphonies 1-8 were filmed at live concerts in Rome. Abbado has a scaled down orchestra and these performances are lithe and vigorous. I cannot think of any of the eight that are not excellent interpretations. My surprize was the Seventh, the work I heard last. Taken at a generally brisk pace, is an absolute knockout; it should have you moving around with the music. The sound and filming qualities are quite satisfactory.
The set concludes with a Ninth that was recorded in Berlin. Unfortunately this performance seems quite flat and uninspired; certainly well below the elevated Rome standard. Given the excellence of Symphonies 1-8 one can still confidently acquire this very reasonably priced cycle. I have returned to it on many occasions with undiminished pleasure."
A Mature Reading
Rex B. Faubion | Mountain View, CA United States | 09/12/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a splendid set, sonically, interpretively, visually. Abbado has lived with and thought about these symphonies a long time; this reading of the symphonies represents a judicious, mature, balanced interpretation. What I like is the lack of an attempt to impose a dramatic, moody, stormy, gut-wrenching performance on these amazing works of symphonic thinking. Beethoven was born in 1770. He's an 18th-century man setting new parameters in harmony, rhythm, and structure, but he's an 18th-century musician seeking ways to expand 18th-century forms. He is not throwing out the window the tonal world he grew up in.
The performances here are clean, articulate, and extremely well-performed. For me this is the basic reading of the symphonies; other performances by conductors with different views can be interesting, entertaining, appalling, intriguing, virtuosic, even extremely moving, but as for the basic standard, this DVD fills the bill."