"This was one of my first classical DVDs, because too few are available. - Manufacturers, wake up! - I have all of Karajan's published (and some unpublished) recordings of Beethoven's 9th. Although this is not his best effort, it still outclasses any performance or recording you would be likely to hear today: good by Karajan's standards is excellent for anyone else! And this is a good performance in excellent sound. The remix to 5.1 Dolby is fantastic and provides real depth to the famous BPO sound under Karajan. The orchestra will amaze you; their precision is literally unmatched. The chorus is also in wonderful form. For me, the biggest drawback was the singing of Franz Grundheber (bass soloist), whose voice has never really impressed me. (You can also hear him as Wozzeck in Abbado's recording for DGG.) He is imprecise and lacks projection. (Too bad that Jose van Dam was not on hand; he had sung to much better effect in this symphony in Karajan's two previous recordings.) The rest of the soloists are fine. In particular, I always enjoy Vinson Cole, a wonderful tenor from Kansas City, whom Karajan more or less discovered. Karajan's ideas about the presentation of symphonic music in video format were evolving even at the time of his death. He had come to realize that the orchestra had to be shown to some extent, but he still maintained that the focus should be on the conductor. The various instrumentalists are shown somewhat idealized, and obviously many close-ups were taken separately from the actual performance. The overall emphasis is on Karajan, not the orchestra or chorus. When you do see them, they are generally not presented as individual musicians but either as part of a section or as people holding an instrument or singing the words. Some may be bothered by this and understandably so, but there are many wonderful shots of Karajan in action. And the overall style is very tasteful and artistic once you grow accustomed to it. Make no mistakes though: This is not a concert film! It is a recording, just as most of Karajan's official releases had always been and therefore is obviously produced and the product of a studio performance (albeit in the Philharmonie). Yet what we see on this DVD is exactly what Karajan intended for us to see and hear. As he was certainly one of the greatest conductor's of all time, I feel that it is a privilege to be able to do so. What better way could there be to see and hear this performance than on DVD with its fantastic picture and sound? [In case anyone wonders: I am an avid collector of CDs and have almost everything Karajan ever recorded. I teach music history at the college level.]"
Good Performances -- Monument to the Conductor
Dan Sherman | Alexandria, VA USA | 06/29/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"At this point, Sony has released all of its von Karajan performances of the Beethoven symphonies on five DVDs. They are all very good performances, created for film (rather than concert performance) in the early 80s. Von Karajan conducts the Berlin Philharmonic, his personal orchestra, and the performance is as much von Karajan as Beethoven. Musically, these are very fine performances, with von Karajan in absolute control of the orchestra which plays very precisely. These are the performance as he wanted to present them -- smooth, well thought-out, and note-perfect.There is probably no right way to put symphonic music onto film -- these productions (made by conductor's own film company) spend most of their time focused on the conductor with cut-away shots to both individual and groups of instrumentalists (also singers in the 9th), usually focusing on the instruments themselves rather than the players. It is fascinating to watch von Karajan -- his authority in the music and with this orchestra are clear thoughout each performance. He conducts without a baton and uses his whole body to conduct, though not in a distracting way (I am thinking of Leonard Bernstein here).The sound and picture on these DVDs are excellent; the sound is truly comparable to a well-recorded CD. The soundtrack is available both in stereo and also an excellent 5.1 Dolby mix. The disks have a set of program notes and a biography of von Karajan."
A Unique and Moving Beethoven 9th
Charles Cheng | Walnut, CA United States | 11/28/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I can understand the reservations expressed by some of the other reviewers regarding this video; it also left me cold and unimpressed at first. Upon repeated viewing, however, I came to appreciate the unique visual style and the truly magnificent music-making of this, Karajan's final testament of Beethoven's penultimate masterpiece.This is not a typical filmed concert. This is a prototypical late Karajan production where soloists and instrumentalists are strategically back-lit and isolated through tight camera shots supplementing very few wide shots of the orchestra itself (there is, in fact, no shot of the orchestra and chorus together in the entire video). The audience too has been excluded except for some shots behind the maestro's shoulders; those expecting wild applause and curtain calls will be disappointed. What you end up with is a dark, brooding and somewhat surrealistic visual landscape where the music, not the event, takes center stage.And what music! Though polished and impeccable as always, the playing of the Berlin Philharmonic shows a sense of urgency (the tempi are farly brisk) that gives the performance an irresistable forward impetus. Add to this four fine soloists and a powerful chorus, and you have a stirring performance with a real sense of occasion. Finally, the full-bodied recording has a nicely burnished quality and very wide dynamic range to suitably excite the ears. The quality of the selectable PCM and AC3 4-channel soundtracks are very close, so those without a Dolby Digital receiver won't miss too much.To sum up, this is a an stirring performance presented in a unique visual style that may not appeal to all (Karajan-haters need not apply), but those with open minds and a taste for musical perfection should experience this video."
Camera angles and scope ruins it for me
Keith R. Brafford | Durham, NC USA | 12/24/2001
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I bought this DVD, of course, because I wanted to see the orchestra and chorus in action for the performance of this important piece. But the number of fixed camera positions, angles, and fields of view is so very limited that I can hardly get a feel for the layout of the group or even the composition of the orchestra. For instance, there are several shots during great choral moments near the end of the 4th movement where you hear what sounds like dozens upon dozens of voices, yet you see like 4 guys on the screen. This happens for every section, and the conductor. Karajan has way too many close-ups of his face, and not enough shots (are there any? I don't recall any!) of him directing the whole group where you actually see many of the musicians! If I wanted to just hear the music, I'd stick with the 8 or so recordings of the piece I already own. I bought the DVD to see the performance, and I'm afraid to say I don't think it delivered.I give it 2 stars, though, and not just one star because it *is* Karajan, afterall :-)I have similar complaints with the Four Seasons DVD. There are way too many shots of Karajan doing who knows what. Seems to be a bit of an egomaniac...I mean, Anne-Sophie Mutter isn't even credited as the violinist on the silk-screen of the disc!"
Not the best one from Karajan!
musikfanca | Canada | 11/25/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Overall the sound and image quality of this DVD is OK but I am still quite disappointed by this release particularly the 4th movement "Ode to Joy". This performance is definitely worse than the one recorded by Karajan in 1970's and may be not as good as that recorded in 1960's. The tenor and baritone here are extremely weak and it feels like that they are singing serenade instead, which makes Beethoven's 9th symphony lack of strength. Karajan's 1970's version of this work is the best and I wonder why he did not try to find someone as good as Peter Schreier and Jose van Dam. Anyway, this release is still worth collecting since it's the only one on DVD. Not too many choices."