Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 / Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
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Product Description

This performance is also available on Deutsche Grammophon in an earlier, mid-price incarnation, but this version is clearly the one to own, since the remastered sound is a definite improvement over previous issues. Herbert von Karajan always did a good job with this symphony, and his performances are quite consistent, even down to the very backward-balance of the chorus. By general consensus, though, this is the best of them. --David Hurwitz

Customer Reviews:

  • One great interpretation for a classic masterpiece.
    Despite the relative old record, the sound is excelent.
    The sound engineers have one outstanding job done here,
    the recording is clear and vivid.
    The interpretation granted by Karajan and the Berlin
    Philharmonic Orchestra needs no coments, simply excelent.
    This record is one of my best purchases, and i recoment it....more info
  • Criticism of von Karajan's 9th
    Previously, a reviewer wrote:

    "Karajan in 1962 wanted to perform Beethoven in a modern way compared to the overtly spiritual, often very slow, heavy, and rubato-laden style of the past in Germany. ... in the last movement Karajan takes the vocal line faster...

    "By comparison, Karajan wasn't as hectically fast or intense as Toscanini,..."

    I don't wish to take anything away from Karajan's technical mastery, his orchestra's wonderful sound, or his "smoothness." It's all good.

    But folks should understand the real reason Karajan's original recorded version of this work, at least in terms of its tempos, comes out as the previous reviewer accurately observed. He kept to his version in subsequent recordings, of which this 1962 recording may accurately be said to be his best result.

    When first he recorded the Beethoven 9th,it wasn't that Karajan wanted a more "modern" version as opposed to the older way of performing this symphony -- that is, unless you categorize as "modern" the underlying economics of Karajan's decisions regarding the tempi.

    Columbia records, as has been written elsewhere, had just introduced its then new 33 1/3 rpm long playing vinyl record.

    Replacing the old 78s, the new medium had one clear technical drawback that showed up in many classical albums in the years prior to the compact disc. You could only fit 60 minutes of music on the record, no more.

    So Columbia first asked Furtwangler to record the work, but to bring it in under 60 minutes. Furtwangler refused, as his interpretation was in excess of 70 minutes and he wasn't about to bend just to sell recordings.

    But Karajan jumped at the chance, and thus accelerated the rise of his star among the great conductors of his age. He was far from alone in adapting the music to the constraints of the market place.

    Eugene Ormandy edited Rachmaninoff's 2nd symphony to get it to fit on vinyl. Jascha Heifetz edited Bruch's Scottish Fantasy and other works so he could fit the number of concertos on one recording the company wanted.
    And so on ...

    The most remarkable, perhaps, example of this sort of thing -- the marketplace affecting the art -- comes in the live recording now on compact disc of Leonard Bernstein being conducted by Glenn Gould in the Brahms D Minor concerto. As Mr. Bernstein's humorous speech in the nature of a disclaimer prior to the performance indicates, what Mr. Gould wanted to do with the tempo as well as the relative loudness of the orchestra and piano was, for its time, not the fashion current in New York at that time. Folks had gotten used to faster tempi and also were wedded to the Orchestra vs. Piano model of concerto.

    Gould, as he explains after the work to Tim Page, explains he wanted to draw out what he saw in the work by slowing it down significantly, and also, in a "Baroquish" mood, Gould wanted to make the concerto seem more of an ensemble piece than a contest or conversation.

    Both the disclaimer and the interview are on the CD -- which brings me to my final point. Note approximately when tempi began to move away from the hell bent for leather gallop of Toscanni's 78s, and the gallop of the era of long playing vinyl to the slower tempi that are far more common, if not universal, today.

    I would place that point right after the introduction of the compact disc -- when you have more than 60 minutes to fill, what's the hurry?
    ...more info
  • A fine recording of the greatest piece ever
    As I write this review, I am listening to the recording; I find this to be an outstanding rendition. However, I feel I must start out with the two aspects that make me dislike this version more than others I've heard. First, I think the second mvmt is too fast, finishing in 11 min flat whereas other recordings are typically about 11.30 or longer. This makes the movement seem rushed, as if the only reason to start was to finish and move on. The other aspect with which I take issue is the choral of the fourth movement. I beleive the soloists are good, but not outstanding, and the choir lacks passion throughout their vocals.

    That said, everything else about this recording is fantastic. I think Bernstein's version is too extreme, in the sense that pianissimos are too quiet and fortissimos are too loud, with the timpani dominating the whole recording. This has the strings being the dominant sound, complimented by the woodwinds--except when it's time for the trumpet fanfares late in the piece. The first and third movements are done fantastically, as well as the instrumentals in the fourth.

    All in all, an outstanding recording, well conducted and beautifully played....more info

  • Magnificently sung and played, but ...
    This is Herbert von Karajan's THIRD of FIVE recordings of Beethoven's last and probably greatest symphony. It boasts the finest solo quartet on disc, the finest orchestral playing, but in the end, something is missing. This recording gets off to a great start with an electrically intense, gloriously played first movement. Karajan's ideal orchestral texture is at the service of emotion and interpretation, as it is in all his greatest recordings - and not the other way around, as it is in almost all of his recordings from the last twenty years of his life. The scherzo is similarly intense, at a fast tempo, and similarly well played, but the recording is a handicap: the all-important timpani lack presence and volume. But the third movement is probably the weakest part of this recording. The adagio gets it off to an excellent start with playing of hushed beauty from the Berlin Philharmonic. But as soon as we enter the andante moderato section, the spell is broken. This section is marked "espressivo" and piano, but we get matter-of-fact playing somewhere between mezzo piano and mezzo forte. A comparison to Furtw?ngler's recording (EMI Great Recordings of the Century) reveals the hushed, flowing serenity that this movement lacks in Karajan's hands. But as soon as we reach the finale, started off by a particularly jolting dissonance, all troubles are forgotten for the moment. Karajan's direction does not become matter-of-fact as we are taken on what can easily seem like a whistle-stop highlights tour of the first three movements. But then, with the hushed entrance of the famous "Joy" theme, we run into trouble again. Karajan's tempo for this section strikes me as too fast, and the playing is not as quiet and meditative as it can and should be. When the Joy theme comes floating in on the high violins, Karajan totally misses the essential serene sweetness: again, compare Furtw?ngler. When the theme enters on the brass and timpani, Karajan's tempo is exactly right: but here is where a tempo fluctuation would have been better. Furtw?ngler, the master of tempo fluctuation, starts this passage out slowly and meditatively, brings the violins with tender beauty, and then accelerates in the few crescendoing bars before the big statement of the theme. However, once we hear the dissonance again, we are in among the best solo team on disc. Walter Berry's voice sounds unusually dark and rich, easily encompassing the taxing two octave span of the bass-baritone part, Waldemar Kmentt's tenor has power and security (if not the tonal beauty of Hopf for Furtw?ngler), Hilde R?ssel-Majdan sings richly and with great authority ... but the crowning glory of this set is the incredibly beautiful voice of Gundula Janowitz. She was only twenty-five when this recording was made in October 1962, but she easily surpasses every other soprano in this part ever, including the magnificent Schwarzkopf for Furtw?ngler. She sings the most taxing, high stretches with amazing ease, where every other soprano sounds somewhat strained, and she still manages to float over the soloists and chorus easily. No matter how many recordings of this symphony you may have, this one is essential for Janowitz's sublime singing. The chorus, on the other hand, is decidedly less impressive, and is not helped by the strangely backward balance - no match for the Philharmonia Chorus on Klemperer's 1957 set. But Karajan is inspired, and he conducts the last fifteen minutes with intense, magisterial power.

    The next question is: how does it compare to other recordings? The answer is: it is very good, but not quite great. And I think the reason for this is that however intensely Karajan conducts, however magisterial the power of his conducting, he never achieves the inner fire, the spirituality, the incandescence of the truly great recordings of this symphony. There are only two recordings I have heard that have these qualities. The first is Klemperer's 1957 EMI recording, with the Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra (the orchestra is every bit as good as the BPO, and the chorus is absolutely magnificent), which is in excellent stereo, but is seriously handicapped by the disappointing quartet of soloists, and, less seriously, by Klemperer's plodding tempo for the scherzo. My first choice, therefore, will always be Furtw?ngler's incandescent 1951 account, which has an excellent if somewhat nervous chorus and orchestra, a superb solo quartet, second only to this quartet, and, above all, Furtw?ngler himself, who is genuinely, greatly inspired, and communicates the radiant glory of this music with an Olympian yet still very human spirituality. However, it is in somewhat dry mono sound, with the chorus quite backwardly balanced, in addition to the audience noises (it was recorded at the concert that reopened the Bayreuth Festival on July 29, 1951). So my recommendation depends on whether you can take mono sound. If it is acceptable at all, get the Furtw?ngler immediately. If you must have stereo, take your pick between Klemperer and Karajan. Happy listening!...more info

  • Beethoven's Ninth
    Karajan is, of course, one of the premier symphony conductors of the last 50 years. He does not disappoint with this recording of what some consider the pinnacle of the world of symphonies. Every movement is masterful and inspiring....more info
  • Ode to Joy
    This is a superb rendition of Beethoven's masterful 9th Symphony. The choral performance in the last portion is amazing!...more info
  • The best one
    I have 21 kinds of Beethoven 9th symphony. Permformnaces of Beethoven 9th symphony are divided into two classes. One class is performed with 18~19th century style, such as Gardiner's and Herreweghe's. Another class is performed with modern style such as Toscanini's, Karajan's, Bernstein's. This Performance is completely performed with modern style by Karajan. Well-trained orchestra, big and intense sound, exaggerated expression, and elegant strings are the characteristics of this performance. Even if I have 21 kinds of Beethoven 9th symphony, my frequent choice for listning is this performance.(But, if you want to choose 19th century style performance, do not choose this one.) The biggest advantage of this performance is the fugue in 4th movement. You can listen the most intense fugue in this performance; It's incredible. Soloists are also very nice. Especially Gundula Janowitz(sop.)'s voice is remarkable. Though I do not think this performance is the most standard one, you'd better listen to this, if you're a fan of 9th symphony. You'll love this....more info
  • Probably the best stereo version of the symphony
    Karajan's 1962 recording is generally considered to be the best of his recordings of Beethoven's ninth, and general opinion is right. This is a tightly focused, almost driven performance; always fresh and with bite. The first movement, for instance, is marvelously cogently argued and the scherzo is probably the most incisive on disc. And these are qualities that were never recaptured in his later recording (the soloists in the finale are also far better on this than on his later attempts). The finale is perhaps the weakest movement, lacking a little in impact, but the extremely brilliant playing by the Berlin Philharmonic counts for much. Sound quality is actually excellent, capturing as it does the wide dynamics and the details of the individual orchestral players (there's also an SACD version, but I haven't heard that one). In short, this might just still be the best stereo version of the symphony available (but it should probably not be compared to some of the older ones, and I am not claiming that I've heard them all, not even all the starry ones)....more info
  • The best of all the 9th's
    Von Karajan once again demonstrates that he is the master of Beethoven interpretations. This is my favorite...more info
  • Beethoven: Symphony No 9, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
    The Symphony No.9 of Beethoven is one of great works of classic music. The interpretation is excellent on the part of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
    ...more info
  • As Promised
    I received the CD quickly and in perfect condition. Just what I ordered, as promised. ...more info
  • By far, the best version of Beethoven's ninth
    My title pretty much sums it up. I have listened to many recordings of this masterpiece, but this one is certainly the best. Each movement is a jewel polished to perfection, and yet the performance very human, filled with the youthful enthusiasm that von Karajan had then. The first movement is wonderful; it is packed with drama, and a whole gamut of emotions are released in this intense performance. There is just the right balance between the sections of the orchesta; in most performances, the percussion simply dominates the rest of the orchestra, making you feel like you are listening to the drum and bugle corps, but not in this one. In most performances, the second movement is either taken much too slow, or the conductor moves too quickly for the orchestra and the performance is sloppy. However, von Karajan and the BPO work especially well together here, producing a spritely, energetic scherzo, with a refreshing breather in the form of a peaceful trio. Despite what other reviewers might say, I think that the slow movement is one of the best parts of this recording. Every measure is the epitomy of sublime music, everything is lyrical to perfection. The orchestra reaches a brilliant climax, and then dies away with a peaceful ending.
    With just these three movements, this would be a classic recording. But the finale simply steals the show. The soloists are absolutely perfect; particularly Janowitz is magnificent, since in most other recordings that part is overbearing to say the least, but even in the most prominent and difficult parts, Janowitz works perfectly with the other soloists and the orchestra. Delightfully, despite the magnificent soloists, the orchestra is not overshadowed; in fact it comes into its own here and makes for a unique and beautiful artistic experience. A must for any serious collector....more info
  • 9th Symphony
    My CD just arrived. The shipping was fast, I am happy with it. The recording quallity is very good. However, Karajan appears to lead the orchestra in a quite cold manner. It is very precise, too precise. The symphony does not sound lively, there is no emotion in it. ...more info
  • ...it might have been...
    Karajan's Beethoven recordings never sounded convincing to me. I think Bernstein, Furtw?ngler and B?hm understood this music much better, although they didn't record it as many times. Anyway, I've always loved this performance of the Ninth; I guess Karajan just didn't overplay it his usual way, and conducted it as in a live performance. You can fill the power of the first movement, as well as the lyrical beauty of the third. The extraordinarily-known last movement is really exciting, even though the chorus doesn't sound too good. If Karajan had had the same attitude towards all Beethoven's symphonies, his cycle would have been by far one of the best....more info
  • A great work done well
    Most of my life I have listened to and enjoyed Classical music. My teenage son has a deep appreciation for it as well. I am not a professional reviewer, but when I stumbled onto this recording it brought back memories that can still be stirred by a fine recording. Due to it's source recording being almost 30 years old there is a lack of crispness I have grown to appreciate that CD's bring out. This re release however still offers the magic that only a great composer and conductor can bring to the ear. There is no other way to explain it....more info
  • Don't Listen to The Hype!
    I listened to the other reviewers and purchased this Ninth as my first version of Beethoven's great symphony. It's something I really regret. There are at least two very irritating flaws in this recording that you should know about:

    1) The second movement is played with a ludicrously fast tempo that's sounds obviously unnatural. I played it to friends who never listen to classical music and even they felt that something didn't seem right. You almost get the sense that Karajan didn't like the 2nd movement nearly as much as the others and therefore wanted to skip over it. It's played in maybe 11:00 flat, if that.

    2) Karajan truly ruins the fourth movement by completely nullifying the beautiful choral performance. He overpowers the humanity of the piece, drowning out what would be a divine, effulgent chorus in an almost bludgeoning display of orchestral power. You would think that in a long, grandiose symphony with very few choral action until the end that you would want to emphasize or at least preserve the human voices, but Karajan treats them as if they are just a few more violins joining the fray.

    3) Lastly, I can't really put my finger on it but something about Karajan's style just seems to lack an underlying soul. The strings sound wonderful and the sound quality is top-notch...and it's still Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, a wonderful piece of music obviously! Yet Karajan's performance lacks the desperate zeal and awe-inspiring outrage of Furtwangler's 1942 recording. Solti's early 70s version of the Ninth may have a weaker 3rd movement than this Karajan recording, but Solti's first and final movements are both better performed. Solti's Ninth has the best choral peformance of any of the Ninth recordings hands down.

    I would recommend Solti's early 70's rendition, Furtwangler 1942, or Fricsay before buying this recording. Only after owning these other great recordings would I round out my collection with this version of the Ninth.
    ...more info
  • exellent vocalists
    There have been many excellent recordings of the ninth, this recording is unique in its choice of soloists especially the creamy upper notes of gundula janowitz no trace of hardness is visible in contrast with her other rivals.The other soloists are also exeptionally well,which makes the acquisition of this CD a must...more info
  • musically excellent, technically problematic
    The singing in this recording is wonderful, especially that of soprano Gundula Janowitz, and the orchestra does an excellent job overall. There are a few intonation issues and other small problems here and there. Sometimes the orchestra needs a bar or two to get back in sync when Karajan makes tempo changes. I liked the tempos Karajan takes; not too slow like other conductors I've heard. He also uses the chorus madrigalistically when they sing the words "All who can call at least one soul theirs, /Join in our song of praise; /But any who cannot must creep tearfully /Away from our circle." (They drastically reduce their volume when singing about creeping tearfully away from the circle.)

    The worst aspect of this recording by far is the recording itself. Aside from the tape hiss (not too horrible, but audible) which can be expected of a 1962 recording, there are some very major technical problems with this recording. At the very beginning of the first movement it sounds like the recording engineer didn't have the levels set correctly, and in later movements there is some stereo weirdness that is somewhat distracting. In the fourth movement, the soloists sound great, but the chorus sounds like they are behind a large piece of cloth or something. The timpani generally sound like dead pots. Of course microphone placement and recording technology have improved since 1962, but this is definitely on the bad end of the spectrum of recordings from that time period.

    Buy this recording for its musical excellence (especially the singing), but be aware that there are technical problems with it....more info

  • A good recording
    There are SO many recordings of this the last symphony by Beethoven. Karajan as a conductor of Beethoven is controversial, and though I admire Karajan and his conducting, it seems that this recording lacks a sense of serenity - a guiding idea or thought, which permeates the truly great recordings of the 9th. However, the orchestral playing is excellent and professional, and certainly the soloists of the last mvt. makes up for all the small uncertainties of the previous mvts.! Janowitz had the voice of an angle, and at this early stage of her distinguished career, it still possesed the freshness and crispness that was later to an extent polished away. Berry and Kmennt are good, too, and Roessel-Majdan sings with great authority, the nestor of the group. I recommend the recording to all as a first choice - to be followed by many of the other, more personal and maybe more excellent interpretations by Furtwaengler, Klemperer, Walter, Gardiner....more info